Long Live Rock!

NYC-based group pays homage to its heroes.

To initiate "Fun Fun Fun"

(RealAudio excerpt), an over-accelerated race through some classic

Stones and Stooges guitar-raunch, Grand Mal lead singer Bill Whitten

delivers a throwaway lyric for the ages. "You know I'm feeling lucky

tonight," he sneers, sounding like Iggy Pop when he was still young and

weary. "I feel just like Dracula's teenage son." It's a wonderful

image, perfectly capturing rock's decadent, after-hours appeal, and at

the same time it suggests, perhaps unwittingly, the particular dilemma

that has led to all those rock-is-dead declarations of the last few

years: when Dad was such a beautiful monster, how do you top him?

Grand Mal's strategy is a kleptomaniacal stroll through rock's own grand

mall: the band cites the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, Mott The

Hoople, the Stooges and Television as major influences, but echoes of

numerous other bands can be heard on Grand Mal's latest album,

Maledictions. "Sixteen"

(RealAudio excerpt), with its lurching beat and save-my-soul

lyrical preoccupations, is an extremely convincing Jesus & Mary Chain

impostor; "You Gotta Be Kidding" features the new-wavey bassline and

metallic melodicism of every song that ever served as the soundtrack for

a montage in an '80s-era teen sex comedy.

For all its pleasures, Grand Mal's eclecticism on Maledictions

also works against itself. As the band segues from influence to

influence, its own identity and the overall impact of the album are

somewhat obscured. In addition, Whitten doesn't always live up to his

disparate mentors: While he's capable of penning a great lyric such as

the one mentioned above, he's also capable of producing "I'm in

Trouble," an overwrought dud whose "I can't sleep/ I'm in deep,"

semi-literate power balladry is all too reminiscent of, say, Loverboy's

least inspired efforts. And even on the album's strongest tracks -- like

"Stay in Bed"

(RealAudio excerpt), which builds to a rousing gospel climax -- the hooks are

never quite as catchy and the orchestration never quite as grand as the

classic antecedents they evoke.

On the other hand, Grand Mal does a far better Stones than the Stones

now do, and their efforts at updating the genre via drum machines and

other more contemporary sonic tricks are generally more judicious than

gratuitous. Most important, Grand Mal's conception of rock as conduit to

dissolute fun fun fun is exactly what the genre needs at a time when its

most popular and promising torchbearers appear to have forsaken that

aspect of it. Indeed,

between the non-stop aggression of Korn and its ilk and the indie

earnestness and wariness of excess that bands like Sleater-Kinney

display, it's no wonder so many music fans have turned toward more

celebratory, less self-conscious genres like pop, hip-hop, and

electronica. While Grand Mal, like the Jesus & Mary Chain, tend to

inoculate their reverence for older forms with '90s-style irony, they

also have the good sense to bury such knowingness deeply enough within

the mix so that its genuine, party-like-it's-1973 sentiments take

precedence.