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    Album Reviews: Kicking the National Habit (Bonus Tracks) by Grand National

    Grand National's Rupert Lyddon and Lawrence "La" Rudd bust out all the right moves on their debut album, Kicking the National Habit. Their music is smooth, atmospheric and soulful in a polite, English sort of way. They hopscotch convincingly between jangly Northern Soul sounds ("Cherry Tree") and brooding neo-New Wave ("Talk Amongst Yourselves"). They have a knack for hooky basslines ("Peanut Dreams") and well-timed, cheeky horn sections ("Boner"). There is, in short, a lot to like here -- and even more on the U.S. version of the album, which contains four solid bonus tracks and three remixes, including the track that first got them international attention, Sasha's hypnotically moody remix of "Talk Amongst Yourselves."

    And yet, somehow, Kicking the National Habit is less than the sum of its parts. Grand National's combination of smoothness and versatility make for an album that is rich in solid individual tracks but almost totally lacking in personality. Maybe it's their background in cover bands -- Rudd used to do Police covers for a living and still sounds unnervingly like Sting at times -- but you can't shake the feeling that Grand National is the work of two talented producers and musicians in need of a really good frontman.

    As a result, while Lyddon and Rudd show occasional brilliant flashes of their best influences -- Pulp, New Order and Blur being the most obvious -- they more often fall into the same camp as other talented but oddly unaffecting bands like Alpinestars and Phoenix. What all these groups share is an ability to make music that so seamlessly incorporates elements of pop, dance beats and retro-rock, it all seems to cancel itself out.

    Still, Kicking the National Habit is the type of album that's worth mining for mixtape fodder or sprinkling into any iPod playlist of danceable Brit-pop and electronica. And it's interesting that some of the best material here is on the bonus tracks, especially "Strange Magnificent Noise," which actually does show flashes of personality on its unabashedly pretty chorus. If the bonus tracks are any indication of this duo's evolution, maybe Grand National might yet prove to be habit-forming. -- Andy Hermann

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