The tiny town of Southport in northern England might be an unlikely birthplace for a trend-stopping band, but that is the locale from which Gomez essentially rendered the mid- ’90s Britpop scene passé by beating out Pulp and the Verve for the coveted Mercury Music Prize in 1998. Not bad for a genial quintet of 20-somethings — Ben Ottewell (vocals, guitar), Tom Gray (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Paul Blackburn (bass, guitar), Olly Peacock (drums), and Ian Ball (vocals, guitar, harmonica) — who recorded their debut album on a four-track in the garage.
Bring It On establishes the band’s loose assimilation of blues and folk with a distinct effortlessness, a kindred mix of lackadaisical wonderment and compelling arrangements made modern by subtle loops, exotic rhythms and electronic effects. The indulgent mishmash of rhythm and shifting vocals could turn into a mess in lesser hands, but Gomez is adept at the restraints of pop music and manages to push limits without pretension. Ottewell’s gravelly voice adds to the rootsy, American feel, but he’s rarely got the stage to himself. Whether used in the classic call-and-response format with Ball and Gray on “Here Comes the Breeze” or stepping aside completely to build multiple harmonies (“Get Myself Arrested”), Ottewell is more a memorable asset than a focal point. Despite its rudimentary roots, Bring It On is imaginative and invigorating.
Gomez struggled a bit on Liquid Skin. A move to professional recording facilities (the legendary Abbey Road) threatens to overwhelm quirkier moments with sheen and occasionally reveals a tendency to favor quantity over quality. The added depth of production makes the gorgeous “We Haven’t Turned Around” a sweeping epic, but it turns lesser ideas like “Rhythm & Blues Alibi” into something more akin to filler. The catchy “Hangover,” which implores a girl to be there for the aftermath, implies that instant fame from the first album will be hard to follow. Indeed it is, and as the successor to a breathtaking debut, Liquid Skin is accomplished but complacent.
Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline gathers non- album tracks, BBC radio sessions, home recordings and outtakes from EPs and elsewhere into a surprisingly listenable compilation (complete with Gomez’s jaunty cover of the Beatles’ “Getting Better,” a line of which was used in a huge TV commercial campaign). The live performances here reveal a high degree of competency and an ability to translate a scattered musical approach into a traditional setting without losing any personality or verve. Despite the ramshackle nature of the B-side material, the album is devoid of filler. The US release includes, as a bonus disc, the five-song between-albums Machismo EP.
In Our Gun finds the band moving confidently forward toward more structured work (or at the least better edited). Left-field moments like “Rex Kramer” get pushed into the background to let the melodies flow more prominently; up-tempo rockers like the sexy leadoff, “Shot Shot,” are tight and brassy. Still, Gomez’s growing proficiency with dub is more evident than ever — the smooth title track shows they’ve not left folk music behind, but it’s not the priority it once was.