Grand National: Kicking the National Habit
Recall Records

Hot Chocolate's “Everyone's a winner, babe” never applied more (after a slight semantic re-adjustment) than it does to the first half of Grand National's (Lawrence 'La' Rudd and Rupert Lyddon) Kicking The National Habit—too bad an equal degree of pop perfection isn't achieved throughout. Don't get the wrong idea; the remainder's fine enough, just not quite as stunning. And adding a half-hour's worth of bonus material (four extra songs and three mixes) only makes the 77-minute release feel bloated (Elliot James's radio edit of “Playing in the Distance” is pure filler while Glimmix's club version adds little to the original; Sasha's “Talk Amongst Yourselves” mix, on the other hand, caps the album wonderfully with a smoothly chugging electro epic); in contrast to the North American release, the UK version featured the first ten songs only—a more satisfying if less generous 40-minute meal. If anything, Kicking The National Habit strongly argues for the vinyl album as the ideal format with the album's ten songs tailor-made for a two-sided split.

The formula's simple and classic: quality songwriting, lush vocals, and meticulous arrangements, all delivered with giddy, infectious energy and wrapped in production so polished it blinds. While the group draws from bands like Happy Mondays, New Order, and Blur, its sound echoes The Police more than any other (in fact, before Grand National Rudd and Lyddon were members in a band that performed Police and Queen material in UK pubs and bars): Andy Summers' signature off-beat stabs appear throughout “Daylight Goes” (reminiscent of a sped-up “Walking On the Moon”) for example, while some “Roxanne”-styled yelps surface too. Though the group lacks the hip cachet of others, it's surprising more bands haven't lifted from The Police, especially given the level of popularity the trio enjoyed during its reign. With “Boner,” Grand National also looks back to the ska-punk style of The Specials and The English Beat.

As stated, tunes like “Coming Round” (galloping folk-rock) and the jubilant “Cherry Tree” (its wailing chorus will annoy or intoxicate, depending on your disposition) are decent enough but it's the opening triad that impresses most. Led by a swaying bass groove, the classic dream-pop of “Drink To Moving On” boasts bittersweet melodies, Niles Rodgers-styled rhythm guitar, and feathery harmonies (plus vocal punctuation that recalls Maroon 5's Adam Levine). A soaring vocal hook (“Talk amongst yourselves while I try to figure it out”) boosts the electro-guitar pop of “Talk Amongst Yourselves” while the raver “Playing In The Distance” (the first song the duo wrote in tandem) features a lockstep groove that recalls LCD Soundsystem. More songs of equal caliber (the bonus “Strange Magnificent Noise” one of them) would've branded Kicking The National Habit an instant classic.

February 2006