Arena Rock Recording Company, 2003
"The 21st century bores the hell out of me," proclaims Grand Mal mastermind Bill Whitten in the middle of the band's third full-length, Bad Timing. Well, duh, Bill. Anyone who's listened that far can easily discern that the songwriter is clearly a man out of time -- a guy whose record collection is most likely filled exclusively with albums released sometime during the Nixon administration. Even the title Bad Timing suggests that Whitten would feel more comfortable in 1973 rather than 2003.
This willfully anachronistic attitude towards music making is both endearing and frustrating: on one hand, it's refreshing to hear someone approach the classic rock genre with a decidedly un-ironic approach. Whitten and his bandmates appear to have a genuine love of '70s rock -- everything from Exile On Main Street-era Stones to Radio City-style power pop is referenced proudly here. There are even gospel back-up singers on a few tracks. Grand Mal takes a connoisseur's approach to classic rock, and when it works, the best of Bad Timing can stand tall next to its forefathers. The title track, in particular, is an undeniably perfect rock song: it's hard hitting, cocky (with just the right tinge of melancholy) and boasts a positively irresistible chorus.
On the other hand, the album at times slips into a general blandness that threatens to drag the band into mediocrity. A few songs have all of the elements of great rock and roll in place, but there's an ineffable quality missing. The excitement of the best classic rock is lost somehow.
Producer Dave Fridmann, who has manned the boards for the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev among other alt-rock luminaries, spices things up a bit with some unusual production, and Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd contributes various sonic bits and bobs throughout. Ultimately, Bad Timing won't thrill you with its daring, but Whitten and company deserve credit for crafting an album full of a kind of rock and roll that just isn't made very much anymore. It may not be as exciting as the canonical '70s records the band loves, but it's close.