Eternal students' funk-soul soup. Tasty...
Mercury winners, critically derided outsiders,
prematurely bewhiskered godfathers of the New Acoustic
Movement – Gomez have certainly taken a bizarre
backwards route to platinum-selling success. The good
news for die-hards is that, on their third album,
these junk-shop stoner [I]’Bagpuss'[/I] types remain firmly
rooted in a parallel universe untroubled by [I]’Pop Idol'[/I]
crassness and unmoved by the great Kylie‘s Arse
Debate. The bad news for casual fans is how
comfortable these sleepy northern souls seem in this
cosy, introverted Gomezworld.
That said, there are ample touches here designed to
confound critics of the band’s patented soft-shoe
sound. From the first technoid belch, a studio sheen
of glitches, twitches and gloops pepper the surface of
most tracks – hardly a surprise for anyone familiar
with 1999’s ‘Liquid Skin’, but the most pointed
foregrounding yet of their Radiohead-meet-Tom-Waits
tendencies. A positive development, for sure.
Cosmetic trimmings, some might argue, but the songs
themselves are also more concise and eclectic than
ever. The title track, especially, evolves jarringly
from a genuinely lovely alt-country waltz into a
thunderous techno-rock mammoth of Prodigy-esque
muscularity. Linkin Gomez, anyone? Then there is ‘Ruff
Stuff’, which patchworks clanking percussion and
video-arcade bloops into a disjointed funk workout,
closely followed by ‘Army Dub’, an angry stomp of
industrial reggae and mud-caked military beats.
But maybe Gomez are protesting too much. After all, it
was never really their antique instrumentation which
made them critical punchbags – look at The Strokes,
devotee of that most mediaeval of noise machines, the
guitar. The problem has always been more their
apparent unwillingness to wring some kind of emotional
intensity from the damn things – a slackness of focus,
music for music’s sake, the sweetly subjective smell
of your own farts.
And frankly, this fuzziness of tone remains
problematic. There are heart-tugging epiphanies here,
for sure, ironically in the most traditional and
simply arranged tracks such as ‘Sound Of Sounds’.
Rather like ‘We Haven’t Turned Around’ from ‘Liquid
Skin’, this is a stand-out lament of bright,
bittersweet, inconsolable beauty. Think early Stone
Roses, or Travis at their least trite. And ‘1000
Times’ is another sublime stargazer, sad and rumpled
and full of ache. But such soulful asides are hemmed
in by slight, jug-band, jam-session shanties like
‘Even Song’ and ‘Ping One Down’. Not every band needs
to be Joy Division, let’s be clear. But a little more
emotional chaos, a dash of the dark stuff, might make
such avuncular campfire grooves more worthy of our
time and money.
Tighter song structures, more varied sounds, richly layered
production and subtle nods to deeper desires make ‘In
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Our Gun’ the most accessible Gomez album yet for
casual fans. Gomezworld remains an agreeable place to
visit, but difficult to love with a passion.