Music

Grand Mal: Bad Timing

Adrien Begrand

Grand Mal

Bad Timing

Label: Arena Rock Recording Company
US Release Date: 2003-03-18
UK Release Date: 2003-03-17
Amazon
iTunes

The title of the new album by retro-rockers Grand Mal couldn't be more fitting. The New York City band has specialized in bringing back the classic hard rock sounds of the early '70s for the past seven years, but thanks to some dumb luck, such as releasing their second album more than a year before the big New York rock renaissance broke out in 2001, their music happened to go unnoticed by scenesters. Now, four years after their last album, they've come around once more, this time, just as the massive hype has started to wane, with good bands like The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs starting to lose their initial luster in the eyes of trend-followers. So yeah, Bad Timing is a hilariously apt title for this new Grand Mal album.

Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist Bill Whitten, and supported by a lineup of band members that has constantly rotated over the years, Grand Mal sound, and look, like they've come straight from the grimy streets of New York City 30 years ago, channeling the best music from that pre-punk era. Their sound seems like one that's been done before by countless bar bands, but as you listen to them, you begin to hear some variety in each song, interesting little hints of other sounds that keep things from getting too monotonous. Produced by Dave Fridmann (he of Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Sparklehorse fame), Bad Timing is a very solid rock 'n' roll record that, despite recycling sounds that we've heard so many times before, still manages to sound fresh and energetic.

The rollicking "1st Round K.O." kicks things off with its cool Stones riff, some great background singers, and some fabulously hedonistic lyrics peppered with some sly, witty moments from Whitten ("I want to be alone unless the world collapses / Or I reverse myself, you know I'm prone to lapses"). "Bad Timing" has a Stones-meets-T.Rex feel, with Whitten sneering his verses a la Lou Reed circa 1972, and Flaming Lips member Steven Drozd providing great bar band piano fills, playing Nicky Hopkins to Grand Mal's Rolling Stones. Meanwhile, there's a very nice hint of Big Star in "Quicksilver", both with its chiming guitars and Whitten's sweet lyrics ("My stupid heart loves loud guitars / And girls with crooked grins"), while "Old Fashioned" is just that, a greasy, trashy tune with more of a glam influence, made all the more fun by Whitten's hilarious wordplay: "I'm in love with this actress / She only fucks black chicks / Though when she's stoned she likes dancing with me / She says I look like a fascist / With my black moustaches and my field jacket from 1963."

"Duty Free" is a great, streetwise, New York Dolls imitation, circa "Personality Crisis" ("She's standing on the corner / Smoking marijuana / Drinking Hi-C"), while the down-home acoustic blooze jam "Flowin' Tide" is reminiscent of those acoustic interludes on Let It Bleed. The dark, gospel-tinged "Black Aura" pulls off that sound much more easily than Primal Scream's ill-advised attempts at the same sound a decade ago, while "Get Lost" is a terrific, wistful, piano-driven portrait of the down-and-out ("You look like a star / But you're living at the movies"). Bad Timing peaks midway through with the masterful ballad "Disaster Film", an extended stream-of-consciousness narrative by Whitten, much like one of those drunken, world-weary ballads Mick and Keith crafted so brilliantly in the late '60s and early '70s. Over a sad piano, mournful guitars, and weepy mellotron, Whitten sings about a dead friend and muses about his other friends who seem to be on a similarly self-destructive path: Things he used to say . . . all that talk in the bar at the end of the day / 'Cut my ashes with cocaine, then dump 'em out of an airplane' / Flying home to JFK, I got this lump in my throat that will not go away."

A few of the songs on the album don't work as well, but Fridmann's production and Whitten's fantastic lyric writing always keep thing from getting too boring. A big problem with all the recent bands resurrecting the sound of old-time hard rock is, though their hearts are always in the right place, the songwriting seems to be lacking, but in Grand Mal's case, that's not a problem at all. With all the young bands trying to play louder than each other, these black-clad New York veterans are more in tune with the subtleties of playing honest rock music, and come the end of the year, after the "The" bands have had their say, Bad Timing should rank among the best of the year's crop of revivalist rock 'n' roll. Here's hoping their timing is good, for once.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image