Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline

...he marginalia of a band who still play rock'n'roll like it's crown green bowling.

The first track is called ‘Shitbag 9’. The second, ‘Bring Your Lovin’ Back Here’. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition, maybe it’s just that apostrophe, but those titles alone say more about [a]Gomez[/a] than Ben Ottewell pumped full of truth serum ever could.

Defenders of [a]Gomez[/a] think they are hated because their detractors are hung up on outmoded ideas of authenticity, that the band’s blithe appropriation of blues and AOR is offensive to those tedious purists who want to get a protractor and measure the sideburn-to-beard ratio according to 1969 statutes. That is, unfortunately, not the case. Nor is it – before you wonder – because they’re popular, nor because, instead of playing the razor-boned androgynes with a monkey on their back, they look like chemical engineering students with a tutor on their case. Basically, the reason detractors detract is because [a]Gomez[/a] have as much to do with wit, beauty and emotional veracity as a bowl of economy muesli. Fibrous. Gritty. Undeniably wholesome, but tiresomely free of pleasure.

‘Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline’ – another cracking title – is a compilation of unreleased tracks, alternate takes, radio sessions and remixes, so expecting anything like the cohesion of a proper album would be unfair. You might well think, however, that could be a saving grace – these musical scavenger hunts often reveal sides to a band that have previously remained hidden behind studio walls, dynamic versions of old songs, say, or an unsuspected fondness for Aerosmith classics.

Here, you get a cover of The Beatles ‘Getting Better’ that is very possibly punishable by iron wool and caustic soda, and so much noodling Golden Wonder could sell it in pots. Obviously, compared with the likes of Stereophonics, it’s almost Lamonte Young-like in its experimentalism: [a]Gomez[/a] aren’t afraid to have more than one idea, and there are songs – the ‘Strawberry Fields’ mellotron stroll of ‘We Haven’t Turned Around (X-ray)’, the 1996 home recording of ‘Flavors’, the oven-ready Calexico of ‘Rosemary’ – that are tribute to a band who plough their own furrow.

Unfortunately, that’s often exactly how it sounds: muddy, clumpy, agricultural. ‘Bring Your Lovin’ Back Here’ is a dry pellet of blues-rock matter; the washed-out, aged groove of ‘Shitbag 9’ is In Sympathy Cards For The Devil, while the funk workout of ‘Buena Vista’ actually makes you write the words ‘funk workout’.

Their third album might be a vital abundance of magic and mayhem. ‘Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline’, however, is the marginalia of a band who still play rock’n’roll like it’s crown green bowling. They went west. They made their fortune. But young men? It sounds unlikely.