A Drink and a Quick Decision
Starting life as a cover band has its disadvantages. Even in this era of cash-in, major-label-boy-bands-with-guitars, the DIY ethic casts a foreboding eye on those who would sing someone else's songs for their supper (if you must copy, follow Cat Power's model: release original material first, wait for that to dry up, THEN get into covering other artists). So, for a lot of music fans, Grand National's start as a Police cover band was a turn-off. Fortunately for Grand National, the '80s come back hit at just the right time, and making Kicking the National Habit -– a debut that sounded like Police outtakes and B-sides -- proved to be dead on target.
Now, Grand National faces their second musical comeuppance: the sophomore album. If starting as a cover band gets mud thrown at your tour bus, then the second album is a lot like driving through quicksand. However, while the sophmore jinx is accurate for bands that are all foam and no beer, Grand National suffers no such setbacks on their follow-up full-length, A Drink and a Quick Decision. The songwriting is still punchy, and the instruments maintain their pristine '80s patina, but this time they broaden their '80s UK sound to reveal a flirtation with Echo and the Bunnymen and a serious crush on the Happy Mondays. The only song to retain its Sting vocal is the horn-assisted "Going to Switch the Lights On" (I know, their song titles could use a good editor).
The band has a pub n' club sound that begs you to sing along to choruses like "By the Time I Get Home There Won't Be Much of a Place for Me" (it's not as cumbersome as it reads), which will have you raising your pints in the pub and shaking your rear in the clubs. Elsewhere there are snippets of New Order, as on the pulsating synth-y centerpiece "Cut by the Brakes," and "Animal Sounds" could easily have been called "NIN Sounds." However, even though you can hear a discussion of influences on the tracks, it doesn't take away from Grand National's overall pop craft. While they lack the cheekiness of the Mondays or the atmosphere of New Order, their tight songwriting and earnestness is difficult to dismiss. Kicking the National Habit had much better surreal moments, but A Drink and a Quick Decision shows a band whose style is slowly catching up with its substance.