Gomez will always be remembered for fathering Bring It On, the Mercury Music Prize winner of 1998. Second album, Liquid Skin, was also high on quality, but had the added boon of commercial success. But since then, the four following albums have struggled to match the heady early days of a band whose glorious whisky and smoke sound captured the imagination of an indie generation looking for something more bluesy, more sultry, and less instantaneously gratifying.
Whatever’s On Your Mind’s Options is at odds with a typical opener from the band. For a start, it’s not only its message that is inherently cheerful, but its core sound, with a cantering pace and whip of breeze in the air. Strumming guitars are its mainstay, but there are fewer staccato rhythms and less of the grizzly bass the Rhythm and Blues Alibi days made us accustomed to.
I Will Take You There is more recognisably ‘Gomez’, blended with French chords from Air. Minor key harmonies, touches of brass and off-time signatures give it an upbeat feeling of soul, which somehow feels a little cheesier than past efforts. What’s also clear is that in making the last few albums, Gomez have moved from the back smoking room of ’90s clubs to outdoor festivals, to throw their appeal nets slightly wider.
That said, Ben Ottewell’s gravelly, whisky-soaked vocals still have that lulling lilt on Whatever’s On Your Mind – a beautifully sensitive track with orchestral tinges amidst the pleading: “Please hold on to your heart.” But that new found positivity and freshness always manages to get its foot through the door, making it hard not to like the record; from the sing-a-long Song In My Heart, to the infectiously emphatic Elbow chords of Just As Lost As You Are – a highlight of the collection whose rousing chorus makes the mouth turn up at each end, despite its dour lyrical message. The Micachu And The Shapes beats of Equalize hark nicely back to 78 Stone Wobble, or Whippin’ Piccadilly, with an uncontrollably excited piano thrown in for good measure.
There are tracks that feel like the album’s Pollyfilla; the balladry of Our Goodbye doesn’t make the impact it should, Place And The People lacks the heart it requires to truly connect with the emotions, and That Wolf doesn’t commit enough to its mix of military drums with Las love drunk vocals.
Nevertheless, this is a competent record. There is, however, the nagging issue that many bands from this fivesome’s Mercury Music Prize-winning heyday have made significant recent comebacks that have felt more vital than Gomez’s ploughing away through the noughties. In fact, their fellow big-name nominees from 1998 have recently crawled out of the woodwork to more acclaim – The Verve at Glastonbury in 2008 and Pulp at Primavera only a few days ago. And while you wouldn’t expect Gomez to generate headlines like this pair, you feel this could be something of a lesson in bands taking stock of their relative position in the pantheon of the music industry. Rather than adopting a tactic of drip feeding quality records, would infrequent, yet more spellbinding material have been a better bet?
The landscape has changed a lot since Gomez first broke down the door, announcing their arrival. This shouldn’t take away from the fact that Whatever’s On Your Mind is decent enough, as albums go, but you feel it’s been preceded by too many slight returns to make new ground this time around.