Album Reviews

Grand National – Kicking The National Habit

(sunday best) UK release date: 24 May 2004

Grand National are the duo of Lawrence “La” Rudd and Rupert Lyddon who have already built up a name for themselves with their well-received single of last year, EP1. Kicking The National Habit is their debut album, and already they’ve been mentioned in the same breath as luminaries like Happy Mondays and Blur.

So are Grand National odds-on favourites for success or non-runners? Well, if quirky, experimental pop with a brain is your bag, then you’re going to have difficulty kicking the Grand National habit. Although this album does have its flaws, the high points are more numerous.

References are pulled from everywhere, but there’s a definite ’80s atmosphere to many of the tracks here. Opening track Drink To Move On sounds like it’s going to burst into the Average White Band‘s Pick Up The Pieces, before the shimmering guitars take over and a relaxed, laid back feel is created. The following track, the excellent Talk Amongst Yourselves, is pure New Order from the opening synth chords to the Peter Hook style bassline.

There are other hints to yesteryear as well. Cherry Tree’s introduction, for example, sounds almost exactly like Echo And The Bunnymen‘s Killing Moon before bursting into a joyful chorus. Daylight Goes, meanwhile, is a deadringer for The Police, with even Rudd’s vocals sounding Sting-like – not so surprising when you learn that Rudd began his musical education in a Police covers band.

As good as this is though, the constant references does mean that Grand National sometimes lack a personality of their own. When they create their own sound, as in Playing In The Distance, it should sound hypnotic yet merely comes across as repetitive. Similarly, North Sound Off mixes New Romantic pop to a dance beat that Basement Jaxx would be proud of – but the song lacks the killer hook that would be second nature to the Jaxx boys.

However, there are enough hints that this won’t be a problem on future releases – the mischievously titled Boner has more ska effervescence than No Doubt have had in years while the creepily atmospheric Peanut Dream is the album’s standout track. A truly memorable bass-line wraps itself around Rudd’s vocals to create a darkly paranoid atmosphere. The addition of vinyl-style crackle and hiss adds to the mood very effectively.

In fact after the album finishes with the almost too lovely conclusion of Litter Bin, you’re willing to forgive Rudd and Lyddon their occasional self-indulgences. Kicking The National Habit is a fine debut album that will delight the large audience it deserves to receive.

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Grand National + Bandini @ Cargo, London
Grand National – Kicking The National Habit