Reviews

How We Operate – Gomez

Label: Ato Records

The now ubiquitous ‘Wikipedia’ suggests that there is a phrase currently in usage describing the kind of downward career trajectory experienced by Gomez subsequent to their Mercury nominated, ‘Bring It On’ debut album of 1998; they call it ‘Mercury Poisoning’ or ‘doing a Gomez’ – a reference to the weight of expectation heaped on a band in the aftermath of a roaring critical response to a band’s very first efforts. Crud also has a phrase; we call it ‘shite second album’ – a reference to the rush release of material by a label keen to exploit a band who have barely enough new material to produce a single-sided flexi disc and who are naturally too exhausted (and too high) to care. We call it ‘doing a runner’. Which is why this resounding return to form for Stockport’s own, is really rather welcome.

It was always going to be hard for Gomez. They forged a career on being barely out of school and already producing the kind of seasoned classic that only pros at the top of their game should have rightfully crafted. Its success was an unequal mix of surprise, lack of expectation, and being so far removed from the rest of the musical landscape – a landscape still enduring the nuclear winter of a post-brit pop apocalypse – that they must have seemed like a second coming. The trouble is, how long can you remain the fresh-faced young upstarts with a bagful of surprises? What are the long-term benefits of being famous for being so impossibly young? Ask Hanson. Ask Little Jimmy Osmond. Ask The Coral – who are likely to be experiencing the same inevitable sea-change of fortunes as Gomez any day now. It’s just one of those things that arrives with coming of age – rather like holding down a 12 hour shift at MacDonalds or acquiring an STD. It’s just all part and parcel of growing up.

But there’s nothing lost. Gomez produced what still has to rate as one of the best British albums of the late nineties and in spite of the disappointing third-album, ‘In Our Gun’, Gomez are back banging out tunes like their going out of fashion and seeming again as fresh as a daisy. The split from Virgin to ATO certainly seems to have paid off.

Unusually for Gomez, this album was produced not by the band themselves but by Gil Norton – already famous for producing Pixies and Foo Fighters. With a guiding principle of ‘simple is best’ the band put the work into pre-production and hard-rehearsed a batch-up songs that had already been agreed democratically by Gomez members. Recording was also to benefit from limits imposed naturally by a smaller budget. The result is a more gentle, more homespun record, benefiting from the maturity of a wiser team member and a greater sense of serenity; the desperate, furtive brushstrokes of ‘Liquid Skin’ and ‘In Our Gun’ smoothed over within an instant of hearing the warm, melodic swell of opening track, ‘Notice’ and well and truly forgotten by the time we lapse into the cheery embrace of the country-flavoured ‘See The World’

It’s very much an album of soul-searching and reflection, the power-chord drive of ‘In Our Gun’ making way for a placid ensemble of gently plucked banjos, chirpy acoustic numbers, harmonies, quirky shuffling rhythms and the occasional chamber-orchestra. Crikey, ‘Girlshapedlovedrug’ even produces the band’s first discernible stab at jangly indie pop. They’ve lost none of their attention to detail – they’re just sketching a smaller picture.

The door is wide-open, the pressure is off and Gomez are slowly coming to terms with being a half-decent band.

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Release: Gomez - How We Operate
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Released: 24 April 2006