"Bring It On" is the debut release from this almost unfeasibly young Sheffield quintet who make a sound that suggests what the Flying Burrito Brothers (I know I seem to be mentioning them a lot at the moment, but it makes a pleasant change from being bombarded by albums from hordes of Pavement wannabees) would be like if they had formed round about now after a decade spent listening to Stone Roses and Smiths albums...indie-country-rock, I suppose, if you want to give it a label.
For various reasons I rate "Bring It On" as one of the most impressive first albums Ive heard in ages - since Lullaby For The Working Class magical "Blanket Warm" Id say, which coincidentally operates in vaguely similar musical territory, and also sounds like the work of a band who have arrived on record fully formed. There are so many moments here that even the most innovative of todays bands couldnt get close to - take the Paul Rodgers-meets-Tom Waits growl of one of Gomezs two vocalists, for instance; the funky acoustic groove of the codas attached to a smattering of the albums twelve tracks (indie-country-rock-prog, anyone?); the dub bassline that couldve snaked off an Augustus Pablo album that lies deep underneath "Ries Wagon"; the charming lyrics on "Whippin Piccadilly", the story of a daytrip to Manchester where the band play football, buy some posters, have a drink in the Student Union bar and then catch the train back home to Sheffield; the way they can sing about chasing "Tijuana Lady" all over old Mexico and not come across as shameless pseuds.
"Bring It On" has already been nominated for this years Mercury Prize (thatd be the annual token indie-country-rock-prog-dub inclusion, then...) which Id like to believe has more to do with its intrinsic excellence than the rather wonky current state of the British music industry (surely the only way to explain Catatonias nomination), but even if it doesnt win itll surely clean up in the music press end of year polls, and quite rightly so.
(Post review note - youll probably have logged by now that "Bring It On" did indeed deservedly win the Mercury Prize, beating even the worthy likes of Cornershop, Massive Attack and The Verve, heartening evidence that the judging panel for once seemed to be composed of people with ears and the time to use them, the kind of judgement that does everyone concerned credit.)
GOMEZ Bring It On (Hut)
Not only is "Bring It On" the title of Gomez's fabulous, Mercury Prize-winning previous album but it's also the name of their latest single, a taster for their forthcoming "Liquid Skin" long player. (Julian Cope and The Doors have also played the new-single-named-after-old-album trick in the past). On vinyl it arrives as a chart-disqualifying 5-track 12" EP, presumably containing everything to be found on both versions of the CD, amounting to nearly 25 minutes of music in total (or half an album, if you prefer to look at it that way).
And it's like what exactly? Maybe mindful of being typecast as student successors to the late, great Grateful Dead following their recent wowing of American audiences with displays of their, er, jamming chops, "Bring It On" the song signals another lurch into the unknown. It sounds a little like their attempt to write their own "Paranoid Android" - poke around in the remains and you'll find the bones of a new-prog epic in their somewhere - got bored to tears in the process and took a wrong turn into some bizarre country-dub festival. I don't know if I like it, but it's definitely different, and certainly their most challenging, furthest-from-obvious single yet. The other four tracks are enjoyable enough, having been assembled with far more care and attention than is usually lavished on b-side fodder, if not fantastically memorable. But full marks are theirs anyway for breaking out of the BPI-imposed chart-position-obsessed marketing stereotype and at least attempting to create something of sustained musical, rather than material, worth.
GOMEZ Liquid Skin (Hut)
Gomez were quite rightly showered with praise and awards for last year's recorded-in-a-garage debut "Bring It On". Does the swift arrival of its successor suggest that the young quintet are trying to cash in on the market for white-boy-indie-delta-blues-dub before it evaporates in a puff of imprudent A&R advances?
Course not. "Liquid Skin" is anything but a hastily assembled facsimile of its predecessor. If anything it deepens and expands the Gomez sound, still familiar enough to be reassuring but progressing at the same time, witness the sedated-Captain Beefheart-style sinewy twisting and turning on "Bring It On". But Gomez's forte is still that of traditional songwriting excellence: there may be a petty element of pot and kettle rivalry in "Rhythm & Blues Alibi"'s sideswipes at American R&B stars but it still remains a cracking tune, as is the slow-writhing, almost stoned immobile "We Haven't Turned Around".
"Liquid Skin" still sounds unmistakably like Gomez, but it's also the work of a band who, understandably, wowed the States during their recent tour, attracting column-loads of 'new Grateful Dead'-style notices en route. They've lost the wide-eyed student naivety - there are no songs on here about taking the train to a Beck gig in Manchester, for example - but in doing so their music has acquired a kind of resonance and universality that their last album hinted at during its best moments. And if the thought of skinny white boys appropriating decades of country and blues heritage leaves you cold, ask yourself whether you'd direct such accusations at the likes of Captain Beefheart. Come to think of it, writing songs about the old West never did Elton and Bernie any harm either.
GOMEZ Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union 26 October 1999
The support act for tonight's gig, Bristol trip-hoppers Day One, signed, as if you need ask, to Massive Attack's Melankolic imprint, received the following mention in the NME: "If you're going to see Gomez this week (and we know you are) get there a little early to have your mind opened a crack". Somewhat ironic, then, that pre-gig rumours filtering out through my sister's BBC contacts suggested that Day One had sent a doctor's note, and their place would be taken by an early-evening Gomez acoustic set. Unfortunately this proved not to be, but the headliners elongated their main set in compensation, and what a compensation it was.
I had reservations about going to see Gomez in concert. Sure, their unique brand of Southern rock and blues as reinterpreted by a floppy-haired student garage band works terrifically on vinyl, but the few excerpts of Gomez live footage I'd seen suggested that the evening might turn out to be a one-way ticket to tedium, consisting of leaden travesties of the band's sprightly material. Opener "Get Miles" didn't exactly shift the clouds of doubt, as they ploughed through a (much) louder and slower version of the original. But they swiftly opened out, playing one of my favourite Gomez songs, the impeccable "Free To Run" in the third slot of a packed setlist. Like many of their songs it arrives with a terrific, melodic coda that just begs to be used as a springboard for extensive improvisation, and so it proved to be, one of the first of many times when they took themselves beyond the limit of what most bands would consider acceptable muso behaviour tonight and, naturally, the audience loved it.
Other highlights included a majestic "Here Comes The Breeze", on which they ably demonstrated their incomprehension of genre barriers by manoeuvring it neatly into a cover of M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up The Volume", "Bring It On", a song that, although not evident on the recorded version, was clearly written to take its place in the pantheon of jumpy up-and-down student disco favourites in the tradition started by "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Song 2", and a joyously slapdash cover of Talking Heads' "Road To Nowhere" (a song that, with heavy irony, might just sum up everything Gomez's detractors accuse them of). The majestic suicidal single choice "We Haven't Turned Around" cropped up halfway in, and although their performance was in no way lacking its self-deprecating mellow vibe seemed to trigger a stampede to the bar, a flow not staunched by a shabby, collapsing rendition of "Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone", complete with bizarre projections of photographs of earth-moving equipment.
But thankfully that was as bad as it got. Some of the slighter songs from the new album mutated into monstrous Dead-style jam sessions, notably a Herculean "Blue Moon Rising", the flamenco-addled "Las Vegas Dealer" and the main set closer "Devil Will Ride". What they gave, over and above all this dry setlist-listing, was a real sense of enjoyment of and wonder at their own playing, and hopefully what they got back from the manic audience reaction was an appreciation of how rare it is to see a group so obviously doing it for something other than the money. And so they encored with the quiet acoustic downbeat beauty of "Make No Sound", the inevitable close-to-the-edge R&B diva-baiting of the fine "Rhythm & Blues Alibi" and a roof-raising "Whippin' Piccadilly", their tale of a journey from Sheffield to Manchester for a Beck gig that underlines once again, as if it were needed, that they've got this mountain music in their blood as much as Mr Hansen himself has.
At which point we made a bolt for the door, because, after all, they'd been on stage for at least 90 minutes and you'd hardly get more entertainment for your rock dollar if you stacked their two albums up one after another. But of course, there was just a little more, a long, languid, life affirming take on "Tijuana Lady" that brought the evening to an immaculate close.
Tonight was blessed with a terrific atmosphere, certainly one of the sweatiest gigs I've ever been to, even in a comparatively large venue like this. Their performance makes arguments about the 'ethics' of skinny white students playing the blues look like an irrelevant side-show: Gomez's true antecedents are Allman Brothers, Little Feat, "Exile"-era Stones, and Grateful Dead circa 1970, spiced with late 60s Floyd (their pre-gig playlist included "Lucifer Sam") and maybe Spiritualized. (Does that make them a British Wilco?) When they 'jam' they do it with conviction and cheeky delight, but never overindulge themselves - maybe the drum solos are one step too far, but seem so ramshackle they're probably just using them to send themselves and their critics up. It seemed as if everybody on stage and in the audience enjoyed themselves, and that sort of gig-going experience is one that happens less often than you might have a right to expect. They may not have any deep, meaningful message to impart, they might not say anything to you about your life, but Gomez have an innate understanding of why music matters, because underneath it all they're just the same sort of obsessive fans as we are, and we should love them for it.
GOMEZ Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline (Hut)
Although this stopgap compilation of b-sides, unreleased material and radio session might look like thin gruel from a distance - inspirational track titles include "Shitbag" and "Shitbag 9" - there's something about the way Gomez can't entirely prevent themselves from radiating harmony and melody from every pore that drags "Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline" back from the brink of the dumper. Amidst an admittedly high percentage of chaff, head for the chugging "Bring Your Loving Back Here", which acts as the perfect three-minute primer on the Gomez sound. "We Haven't Turned Around", the sleepy, melancholic highlight of last album proper "Liquid Skin" (and floor-clearer on their subsequent tour) arrives in an even more languid mellotron-assisted version. And "Buena Vista" mutates from a scrap of tape recorded on a four-track in a garage to the most eloquent, controlled display yet of the band's 'jamming chops'. Stolen moments like these make it a lot easier to smile benevolently at the beat-up beatbox-addled "The Cowboy Song" and their pointless cover of The Beatles' "Getting Better" as used on Philips' television and cinema advertisements - "the sound of us fondling satan's trident", as the band perceptively note. In sum "Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline" won't preach to the unconverted, but if you've enjoyed following the Gomez story thus far it won't tarnish your appreciation of the band one little bit.
GOMEZ In Our Gun (Hut)
In which Gomez go nu-skool, unfortunately. Unfashionable as it might be, what was always so great about Gomez was their long, loping, unravelling way with a melody, laced with the ever-present possibility that proceedings might tumble into one of their marvellous telekinetic get-our-Deadheads-together-style jams. "In Our Gun" is a markedly different proposition, from its splodgy sleeve inwards.
In olden times a Gomez album never arrived without a full complement of fully-realised, matured-in-oak-vats real songs, even on the occasions when those songs might have been obscured by melodic wooziness ("Liquid Skin") or horseplay antics ("Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline"). In contrast, "In Our Gun" seems to have been based around a series of rough sketches and underdeveloped ideas, which makes for a podgy muddle of an album. All manner of electronic whooshes and squidges seem to have been deployed in an attempt to throw the listener off the scent of declining inspiration, but they rarely seem to have anything to add to the songs and frequently seem to have been included solely because somebody decided that they sounded good and had to be used somewhere, at any cost. The result is an album that sounds like an uncomfortably accurate representation of the conditions under which it was recorded, the noise a band makes whilst going fractiously loopy trying to piece an album together in an inadequately-heated studio established in a deserted stately home.
And equally, there are moments: the brass construction that ends "Detroit Swing 66" is pleasantly at odds with the song's melancholy warning shot shot lyrics. Danny Thompson contributes some double basslines on the rather fine, slow-moving title track, although the clunky techno approximation that closes the song undoes much of his good work. And "Sound Of Sounds" blooms like old-fashioned Gomez, almost: the harmonies, the acoustic guitars, there's enough here to make them sound like a half-speed Crosby, Stills & Nash on happy pills. But a few pleasant moments aren't enough to rescue a Gomez album that is otherwise uncharacteristically lumpy, uneven and underwritten.
GOMEZ Out West (ATO)
It seems as though Gomezs appeal has become ever more selective since their debut album, Bring It On, scooped the 1998 Mercury gong. Happily, theres both some satisfaction and vindication to be derived from this double live CD, recorded before a highly appreciative audience in one of the sonic temples of the bands brand of jam-happy Americana, San Franciscos Fillmore. (The sense of coals being ferried to Newcastle only increases on noting that the album is released on ATO, a label founded by Dave Matthews.)
Gomez have always been a good value concert attraction, something amply demonstrated by Out West, their enthusiasm easily papering over the occasional paucity in material, wisely predominately drawn from their first two albums. Still, the lesser likes of Shot Shot are welcomed with whooping, hollering approval, so maybe its just a question of perception. And even this cant be faulted for ambition, with its elaborately arranged stop/start construction. Similarly, the jig that flares up in the middle of Hangover is far more English than their predominately American leanings might lead the listener to expect.
Perhaps underlining this emergent dichotomy in the Gomez sound, two covers slide seamlessly into the albums fabric, the band making both Tom Waits Going Out West (thunderous and stinging) and Nick Drakes Black Eyed Dog (which gradually assembles itself from a heathaze of guitar noise) entirely their own to the extent that it takes a bunch of plays before the realisation dawns that theyre not, in fact, self-penned.
The scorched earth sound of slide guitar and feedback introduces an appropriately lazy but limber Here Comes The Breeze, one of maybe a half-dozen songs on their debut that capture the concentrated essence of what Gomez do so well, that slightly alien but heartfelt take on slacker Americana. We Havent Turned Around is as mournful and mellow as ever, despite the absence of the Mellotron that graces some versions, and an 11 minute romp through Revolutionary Kind filters fragments of Hangover into its more furious, squalling moments, before subsiding into the kind of grey noise electronica drone more frequently encountered in performances by the likes of Super Furry Animals.
A swampy Blue Moon Rising grabs at the feet like quicksand, and the band are sufficiently confident during Get Myself Arrested to drop out entirely and let the audience carry the tune. In fact, the crowd hardly need the barked encouragement to come on, fucking hell, every single one of you that mars the opening of Whippin Piccadilly and is guaranteed to rankle on every play.
Out West isnt the perfect Gomez live album. Its overlong a deftly edited single disc a la the bonus CD that accompanies The Beta Bands swansong compilation might have been preferable for all but the most committed fan and yet still manages to omit the glorious Tijuana Lady, but at this stage in the groups career its a welcome fillip to their reputation.