(Hollywood Records, CD)
It is interesting that Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ third full-length album is self-titled, a designation usually reserved for debut efforts. The implication — to the casual observer and/or anyone who has read the narrative floated by their label — is that the Vermont-based rock-stars-in-training have finally come into their own. They have found themselves. However, a cynic might raise an eyebrow at this notion, pointing to the band’s tumultuous past year as evidence that they are further from being “themselves” than ever before.
To recap, GPN “parted ways” with longtime bassist Bryan Dondero in one of the uglier — and, in retrospect, downright strange — splits in recent memory. They replaced him with bassist-for-hire Catherine Popper, late of Hem and Ryan Adams and The Cardinals. They also added talented Queen City axe man Benny Yurco as rhythmic muscle. Further muddying the picture, their label chose to shelve a much-ballyhooed record made with T-Bone Burnett. Bigwig producer Mark Batson (Dave Matthews Band, Eminem, Alicia Keys) ultimately helmed this project and also cowrote several of its songs. And this is supposed to be the “real” Grace Potter & the Nocturnals?
GPN have always set their sights on lofty commercial success and have never been bashful or remotely apologetic about it. From their 2005 debut Nothing But the Water to their presumed 2007 breakout This Is Somewhere, the band has crafted a sound and an aesthetic tailor made for airbrushed, radio-rock glory. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals is the culmination of those efforts.
Over the years, Potter has gradually and gleefully shed her down-home country-girl image for that of a hypersexualized starlet. It’s a role she embraces from the album’s lusty opening grunt — yes, grunt — on “Paris (Ooh La La).” Throughout the song, the singer is fairly bursting with raw, hot-blooded energy. It seems little Gracie Potter from Waitsfield is all growed up.
“Oasis” overtly cops My Morning Jacket’s reverb-drenched psychedelic rock. It’s a passable, if watered-down, imitation that likely will play well on modern rock radio.
“Goodbye Kiss” is a laid-back, reggae-tinged pop number and a welcome change of pace that leads in to the album’s first single, “Tiny Light.” The latter is eerily reminiscent of k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving.”
Potter and co. front-loaded the album, and the latter half is a mixed bag. “Colors” is a clumsy, piano-driven ballad written in response to the election of President Obama. “Money” is white-bread blues-rock at its most schlocky and pandering. Still, there are some better moments to be had, in particular the playful “One Short Night” and the rowdy “Hot Summer Night.”
At this point, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are what they are: a calculated, factory-fresh, ready-for-prime-time rock band. Fittingly, that is exactly reflected by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, the record. It hits stores everywhere on Tuesday, June 8.