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Gomez : In Our Gun

REVIEW: Gomez: In Our Gun
4.29.2002 by Sean

Gomez: In Our Gun [Virgin, 2002]

Three words? Gomez loses it.

Like a sweater-clad swamp monster, Gomez has always been a bit of an enigma. Over the course of two albums and a b-side compilation, they've accumulated a Mercury Prize, commercial recognition in Britain, and a body of devoted North American fans. The group has recorded everything from neo-blues ("Get Miles") to bo-diddley pop ("Waster") to New Acoustic balladry ("We Haven't Turned Around"), always demonstrating a talent for timbre and texture, piling layer upon layer of rich sound. Gomez's critics have looked at the youthful, scrubbed faces of the band's members, and refused to acknowledge their ability to sing with soul; they've attacked the poetic, psychedelic lyrics, ignoring the imagery and pretending there's nothing but vapidity. And me, I fell in love - first with Bring It On, then with Liquid Skin.

But my romance with Gomez has come to an end.

This review comes many weeks since I first heard In Our Gun. Though I've listened to it many times, I haven't been able to bring myself to write about it. I'm simply too disappointed.

This isn't a bad album. It opens with the fantastic first single, "Shot Shot", whose throbbing bassline winds around "Whipping Piccadilly"-style lyrics, blooming under theremin wobbles and bursting into a saxophone chorus. It's Radiohead's "National Anthem" crossed with the funk of Beck's "Pressure Zone", it's noise and ringing cymbals and Ian Ball's smooth voice. Next comes the pipe-samples and synthesizers of "Rex Kramer". We are blessed with the throat of Ben Ottewell - one of Gomez's three vocalists, and the one who owns the dripping, gin-heavy voice of Tom Waits - but the song is lacklustre and repetitive. The problems here are the same ones that plague the rest of the album. "Rex Kramer"'s upper-register chorus is pleasant, sounds pretty, but is neither moving nor sonically interesting. "Detroit Swing 66" takes its upbeat, strummed chord-progression and repeats it at nauseum, occasionally pausing for an awkward spoken-word breakdown. "Ruff Stuff"'s applies industrial crunches to a pedestrian tune, the drums, synths, vocals and guitar all following the same melodic line. Gone are the string arrangements of "Make No Sound" or "California", gone is the focus on great melody and uplifting harmony: everywhere the focus has shifted from blues to street-smarts, back-porch to "urban". The preponderance of glitch could be an innovative step forward - see the sampling/folk blend on Beck's Mutations, or even Gomez's own work in "Machismo" - but the group has stripped away its swamp-soul roots, reimagining itself in sterile, artificial form. Even on tracks like "Sound of Sounds", where the slow-spinning acoustic ballad recalls former greatness, the band appears to have forgotten how to arrange loveliness: the same verse/chorus structure is repeated over and over, sans accoutrements.

Things are saddest on In Our Gun when you hear that flash of brilliance, that déja vu of glory. The title track sways on jazzy, upright-bass and recorder, the vocals lie warm and wonderful in wide harmonic lines. Guitars suddenly crash through the ambience, chugging up and down, tossed from speaker to speaker and broken up with a scritchy bleep and high-hats. It's exciting, it's novel, but then the gritty sound fades away, bubbles into nothing, never reuniting those musical strands, never tying together its themes. All of the ingredients are there, but it's undercooked, half-assed. It's soul music that has lost its soul, swamp-rock furnished at IKEA.

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