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Love Is the Best Con In Town

Grand Mal

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Album Review

Bill Whitten's musical transformation from St. Johnny to Grand Mal, and then into the further years of that act, is in many ways as good an example of bootstrapping as any. By the time of his fourth Grand Mal album Love Is the Best Con in Town, a solo return to the name after the band's previous dissolution a few years previous, he had carved out a moody cabaret/glam niche that belied the energetic but ultimately unremarkable work of much earlier times. (Certainly the various invocations of David Bowie in "His Baleful Eye" — or at least, that's what it sounds like he's singing — is a definite acknowledgment of inspiration.) From the start, with his portrait of defiant hopes for chasing the dream "From Hartford to Times Square," Whitten often suggests the romantic imagery of a previous century's dream of New York City, rainy alleys and a down-and-out atmospheres that still hold an allure even in the post-Giuliani, post-9/11 years. Recorded with a large number of guest players from a slew of bands — mostly at his apartment, though doubtless for reasons of neighborly peace the drummers recorded their parts at their rehearsal spaces — Love Is the Best Con in Town is back to front a fine-sounding treat, with Dave Fridmann's mastering not placing the producer's usual sonic stamp on the proceedings (said stamp is good, but variety is always better). The swooning, soothing backup vocals in particular are a lovely touch, a bit of accomplished harmonizing that takes the sting out of the lyrical sentiments in songs like "People Change (Maybe They Don't)" and "Here's to Our Estrangement." When the energy level kicks up some more, as on "Count Me In!" and "C'mon," it's good enough but the whole album seems to work better in calmer or more restrained mode, letting everything snake in slowly behind Whitten's lead singing and occasional instrumental contributions.

Biography

Formed: 1995 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Bill Whitten formed the New York City band Grand Mal after the dissolution of his former group, the Connecticut combo St. Johnny, in 1995. While his former unit gloried in Sonic Youth-style fuzz and feedback (with a distinct slacker air), Grand Mal was decidedly less lethargic, glorying in glammed-up aggression and gutter-punk abandonment. Whitten launched Grand Mal with a primarily solo EP in 1996. The punctuations of energy and hearty stabs at club-kid culture (bolstered by the vocals of Carmen...
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Love Is the Best Con In Town, Grand Mal
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