You mentioned that analogy to the drunken brewmaster a while ago, Larry, and it really resonated with me. I can really relate to the problem of getting into the music too much, and how that impacts your ability to play it well. I used to watch guys like Steve Gadd just looking like he's SO into it and jumping out of his seat when he'd hit the drums during certain parts of a tune. I wanted to do that, but the difference was he was staying in perfect time and I was a complete mess! I relay that same analogy (don't worry, I always give you credit for it) to my musician friends all the time. It's a great one.I totally used to do the same thing, get into it too much. The answer that worked for me is I had to not let myself get into it as much. It's like a brewmaster getting drunk on the beer and ruining the product. I had to keep my head and emotionally distance myself a bit from it. This had the effect of sounding like I was into it. It's backwards.
You can have good timing without the met. That requires first working with the met lol. The quicker you break out the evil metro-gnome, the quicker your timing will improve. You need to pound into your head what steady meter sounds like. Only a metronome can do that flawlessly for you. If you are serious about drumming, ignoring the met is like postponing the inevitable.
I love metronome practice. It WILL even you out. After a month, if you don't say that working with the met was the best thing you've ever done for your playing, I'll eat my proverbial hat.
Working with a metronome has worked for me. I've read Jeff Berlin's comments and that's fine, but in my experience, I could not have improved my timekeeping without one. It just lays all your tendencies so bare. You're SURE you came out of that fill exactly on one, but there's that click telling you, "Uh-uh." It helps you figure out where you tend to rush or drag, be it during certain fills or changes in tempo or feel, which gives you an opportunity to zero in on it and fix it.