Review Summary: Although not nearly as experimental and broad as their later albums, Dragon Ash's 1997 full length debut continues to be one of the band's best works to date.
Japanese alternative rock gods Dragon Ash are primarily known for popularizing the rap rock style by the new millennium, to huge success. Indeed, being rap rock icons are what Dragon Ash is mainly credited for nowadays. But during their first two years of activity, Dragon Ash had a much more ballsy style that initially was straight punk rock, but eventually blended the likes of alternative and hard rock into the mix as well. At the young age span of late teens through early twenties, Dragon Ash released their debut 1997 full length album, "Mustang!", to mediocre sales, and thanks to their swarm of success through the rap/pop rock scene, the debut is usually drowned in the mix. However, critically speaking, "Mustang!" is indeed one of their greatest works, and its melodious, yet at times heavy, alternative style is definitely contagious to say the least.
The opening track of "Mustang!", "One Way", pulls no punches, and blasts the listener headfirst into their loud world, with static surrounding at both ends, and with frontman KJ strainingly screaming and crooning simultaneously. An impressive opener, but the following track, "Rainy Day and Day", is the track that revs up the album's potential to skyrocketing heights. One of the most recognized tracks on the gem, the track cleverly channels minor grunge influences, and keeps a heavy alternative buzz to it as well. The minors in the chorus are absolutely hypnotizing, and "Rainy Day and Day" is one of the main factors for keeping "Mustang!" afloat in the seas of brilliance. The following track, "Cowboy F**k!", is another cult track on the album, and has a bouncy fizzled pop sound, and is one of the earliest examples of Dragon Ash performing rap rock. Unlike the repetitive nature of Dragon Ash's rap rock style later on, however, "Cowboy F**k!" remains fresh by having an obnoxiously catchy chorus, and having a whimsically aged element to it, which gives it a nice vintage summertime feel.
The next few tracks insert dreamy pop elements into the already musically varied album. "Where Where Where" is an interesting cut which starts off with dozy pop rock elements, but eventually rises to have a classic biting alternative tone with some minor shoegaze influences, which would make 90's-era Smashing Pumpkins gleam with pride. "My Friend" is just a beautiful display of symphonic-fronted rock, which is heavy on the poppy croons, but keeps steady with heartstring-tugging emotion, thus being one of the few moving tracks on the album, and adds a different kind of appeal which adds to the album's already staggering dynamic. "Generation Mind" revives the album's heavy alternative sound, with a buzzing bassline, guitar shrieks and calming crooning from KJ. Ultimately, "Generation Mind" is a track that should satisfy the thirst of most 90's alternative rock fans. "Sunday" is probably the most quirkiest track on the album, as it starts off with twitchy 8-bit sound effects, church organs and melodious vocals from KJ. It eventually develops into a distant-sounding audial masterpiece, with slight electronic-new wave ambiance, and although it may be plain in terms of elemental value, its bare-boned execution ends up working wonderfully. "Monkey Punch Monkey Kick" cranks the album's tone to the max, with highly harmonious vocalization, and a driving alternative sound. As a result, "Monkey Punch Monkey Kick" results in ultimately being one of the most addictive tracks on the album, and ranks up there with the likes of "Rainy Day and Day". "Maximum of Life" is one of the most introspective tracks on the album, and borrows heavily from the shoegaze style, and is way more reliant on it than "Where Where Where", which only briefly touched upon it. Its haunting sound progressively gravitates the listener's ear, and is definitely the most concentrated and mature effort on "Mustang!" by far. The album's final track, "River", is another alternative masterpiece, which is heavily dependent on melody, and the vocals of KJ are eerie and the end result is downright marvelous. A truly beautiful and captivating way to end such an enjoyable ride.
Perhaps it's because of their later pop style, perhaps it's because at such a young age that they were able to meld such a masterpiece, it leaves you amazed. But whatever the case may be, "Mustang!" definitely stands out in the bunch, and is without a doubt one of the most solid alternative albums Japan has released within the last 20 years. Needless to say, this is an album that needs more attention, especially among fans of Dragon Ash and alternative rock, period. To sum it all up, "Mustang!" is easily one of their greatest albums to date, yet remains criminally underrated. It is definitely worth picking up, probably more so than the majority of their albums.