Tongue-buckling tart at first taste, gooey and sweet a few seconds later, and so palate-teasing fun that you instantly want more, more, more, the songs of Brit outfit Gomez are the musical equivalent of Sour Patch Kids, the most dastardly yet yummy of rot-your-teeth treats. Switching from sinister to silly to sad in the time it takes to lick sugar from your lips, the tunes are pure psych-pop candy, their bluesy, jammy, trippy ingredients intended to mess with your head at the same time they provide a woozy, feel-good high. Of course, too much of the stuff is gonna make your noggin pound and your belly moan. But does anyone really want to eat Radiohead salad all the time?
Over the span of two long-players (1998’s Bring It On and 1999’s Liquid Skin) and a collection of B-sides and throwaways such as “Shitbag” and “Shitbag 9” (2000’s Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline), the quintet from Southport, despite signing with a major label, has shied away from a next-big-thing media push. In fact, when the Gomez lads won Britain’s big-deal Mercury Music Prize for their debut album—originally recorded by the childhood pals as a goof-off—they were admittedly so loaded on free backstage booze that they have little recollection of the important night ever happening. (Wasted but nevertheless nerdy, instead of engaging in some tabloid-fodder shenanigans that evening, they just kinda passed out. So much for taking advantage of the moment Gallagher-style.)
Despite their prevailing who-gives-a-shit attitude, however, the members of Gomez, more lost boys than bad boys, managed to make a lasting dent in the pop-culture consciousness when they covered the Beatles’ “Getting Better” for a 1998 Philips Electronics ad. Vocalist-guitarist Ben Ottewell’s performance—his voice a sad, raspy reminder of David Gates’ weepy days with Bread—gave the goofy TV spot unexpected gravitas and had music fans both learned and clueless charging into record stores and asking just who in the hell sings that song.
And for all the band’s goofy insistence on infusing its free-form tunes with oddball instrumentation (rolls of toilet paper, fire extinguishers, underwater microphones) and nonsensical lyrics (have you heard “78 Stone Wobble”?), Gomez cut the antics long enough to make “We Haven’t Turned Around,” Liquid Skin’s six-minute-plus masterpiece. It’s a painfully lucid love song that would be perfect for your wedding if it weren’t for that potentially Grandma-upsetting “We came, we came, we came again” opening line. With its sweet ‘n’ low cello, sad acoustic strumming, and Ottewell’s pleading chorus of “So you wanna spin the world around” crashing over sudden arena-rock power chords, the track is so affecting and emotionally dead-on that it makes you wish the class clowns of Gomez would stop spending so much time cracking themselves up.
The new In Our Gun is the band’s first full-length in three years, and although it’s still hanging on with Virgin, Gomez has tumbled back on the scene well under the publicity radar. There’s been no hype, and few music-mag mentions. In Our Gun just kinda showed up—just how the guys like it. And the band remains as stingy as ever when it comes to providing liner notes; instead we get nothing more than a list of “Ingredients,” including “Badger x 1,” “Baths Not Showers,” “Cat Jigsaws (did it get finished?),” “Rowdy Renditions of Scottish Folk Songs,” and “Toasties and Crackers (mmm…cheese).”
Although “Flatulating Muskrats” are nowhere to be found on the run-down of ingredients, the gassy little critters can be heard during the first few seconds of opening track “Shot Shot.” There are also—and I’m winging it here—a chihuahua skating on cymbals, a trampolining jockey, a horny Darth Vader, and, soon enough, a theremin and some sublimely belchy saxophones. But don’t let Gomez fool you with its bottomless bag of audio tricks: It doesn’t take long to realize that the 13-track In Our Gun is the band’s most listener-friendly effort to date, an album that wants to soothe more than fool, sweeten more than sour. And “Shot Shot,” with its ska-rock foundation and groovy thump courtesy of drummer Olly Peacock, has, in addition to a chummy bar-crawl chorus, the firepower to be a legitimate radio hit, whatever it’s about. (Maybe love, maybe war, maybe both. Hell, there’s a very good chance that the band members don’t even know. And if they did, they probably wouldn’t tell us.)
The incandescent Ottewell, who shares (but shouldn’t) vocal duties with guitarist-keyboardist Tom Gray and guitarist Ian Ball, has plenty of star turns here, and sounds at all times as if his baby done left him again and he’s climbing to the highest point of the nearest bridge. He’s the band’s mushy center, providing much-needed warmth in and among those moments of spaced-out experimentation. On “Rex Kramer,” over samples of what just might be a Nepalese jam-band parading through a bustling flea market, and while strutting to a wocka-ed-out keyboard line, he sings, “I-I-I’ve been lost and now I’ve found my way,” but you don’t dare believe him. On “Even Song,” a sort-of sequel to “We Haven’t Turned Around,” the singer—his voice echoed, then fuzzed, then painfully clear—pleads for the sun to “stop going down,” as Blue Note horns (echoed, fuzzed, etc.) bring on the night. And “1000 Times” features Ottewell in a lullaby mood, taking his seemingly innocent search-for-hope sentiment through deliriously singsongy peaks and valleys.
Yes, those smelly muskrats do show up again—bringing their chittering LSD’d weasel friends with them—and there are the times, such as on the techno-babbling Alan Parsons-ish “Army Dub,” when you want the band to stop futzing around with the neat-o FX and get back to those gorgeous out-of-nowhere hooks. But the enough-already factor is low here, lower than it’s ever been, and In Our Gun ends as it should, with the revelatory “Ballad of Nice & Easy.” The song ambles along on a Grateful Dead shuffle of plucky guitar and up-tempo drums, all three singers gathered around the mike at once. The so-happy sayonara plays like a sheepish thank-you note—”We’re coming along…
young and carefree”—as if the puckish guys of Gomez know they use too many ingredients, but doesn’t it taste so damn good? And sure, there aren’t any sour patches to be found on this sweetheart closer, but that’s OK. Gummi Bears are really good, too. CP