11 May 2006

Gomez covers: In: "Soul Kitchen" Out: "Do You Feel Like We Do?"

After dropping my reluctant kindergartener at school, I had Gomez on random play and heard a jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud live cover of "Soul Kitchen," a Doors song. Ben Ottewell, who sings lead on that particular track, absolutely rocks out -- he's really learned to go deep into the songs when he performs. It's thrilling and wild: you can hear it even on a second- or third-generation copy. Whoa, Nelly! (And a BIG shout out to rdesranleau for weeding that out to me a little while back -- I'll have to pass that along to a friend.) I hope I get to hear that live one day. I'll even trade in my request for Peter Frampton.

Now I'm listening to Ben O. again on Gomez' new album, How We Operate. These guys have now soundly disproven their suspicious critics who thought they were just in it for the novelty of mashing up obscure blues artists. That this was just one ironic joke that they were out to wring for all of the record company swag they could grab before lights-out. (And it's not a bad strategy, with the rise of alt-country and the ilk. And remember Us3, who mashed up Blue Note's catalog to fantastic effect and one of the best things to come out of the '90s? Without them, we'd probably never know about Zero 7 and so many other greats.)

But IMHO Gomez have aped every lick with loving care and curiosity about where it came from. I hear a deep love of music coursing through this album. When Ben says there's nothing else he'd do -- if he weren't in this band he'd be in another -- he's not kidding. (I understand: No matter what I do I have to write. That's my need, my drive.) Where earlier albums were riddled with post-adolescent druggie humor and sonic in-jokes, this band is reaching out a little farther now for something different, more universal. And if it's a calculated way of creating summer hits and getting radio play, well, that worked for the Beach Boys, did it not?

With How We Operate, Gomez have brought out into the world a neat stack of loving references, some might even say homages, to other artists and times and places and genres. There's only continuity in their willingness to mine a variety of genres, from singer-songwriter folk-rock to the peppy melodic power pop of "All Too Much." "Charlie Patton Songs" diverges from Robert Hunteresque grandeur into jamband territory; yet these are very different tunes from "See The World" and worlds apart in turn from "Man! Woman!"

Yet none of these poses seem the least bit ironic. Whether Ben is singing background sha-la-las or growling his way through the title track, he means it. Something good has happened as a result of all of this effort to get these songs out there and they know it and go at these songs (and their back catalog too) with feeling, with soul. Gomez know they're lucky to have a shot at being a widely loved band. With their gifts, they shouldn't be ready to let go of them just yet.

And I know I'm gushing at this point, but their gifts are freakish, I tell ya. At their live shows they perform a lot of covers. Ian will try just about anything people call out at his solo shows. And everything I have seen them do they have done with verve. I listened to the members of Death Cab for Cutie whine about keeping it real during their shows and how hard it is to remember each show is not just another repetition of the same songs but a big event for the audience, who typically only see them once a year or so. Over the years of going to their shows, I have enjoyed the way Gomez put their efforts into having a good time onstage -- and often goading the people into a frenzy so everyone will have an even better time. That's so much more constructive and fun that all that navel-gazing reflection.

Lest you think I have only good things to say about Gomez' latest efforts, however, I admit to finding a high cheese factor in their more recent material despite their apparent efforts to rise above that. The cheese factor existed in the older songs too (I still snort at the lyrics to "Tijuana Lady" -- liking that song feels exactly the way I felt watching There's Something About Mary. In reaching for the stars of universal experience, sometimes these guys just seem to come back with fistfuls of green cheese. "Tell us what's your secret? Have you got somethin' to hide? You make it look so easy, like you don't even try." I don't know, it all reads like a dime novel sometimes. I felt that way about their last album, too, Split the Difference. There was the musical bombast of a crazy adventure tale called "Do One," and the employment of the skiffle in a goofball riff on three of the mortal sins. Look, Johnny, here's the sleazy part of the tour in "Cry on Demand": Cut to Ian Ball singing, "...'cause what happens in Vegas don't take very long." And is Tom Gray not the very definition of twee on "Man! Woman!" and "girlshapedlovedrug"? Some of this stuff is too precious for many listenings -- this collection of songs is not the album that invites you to sprawl out with a bong and forget about your worries for an hour or two the way their entire albums once did (back when they were "stoners doing bugger all" and not striving mortgage-holders getting ready to have babies and the like).

Yet I do believe they've got soul, and sometimes they even know how to use it. It carries them far -- as it does me and a handful of others around the world as well. Gomez' body of work makes a brilliant argument for breaking away from your roots while expressing your influences and your own pet sounds all the while. Don't worry, I'm on it.

1 comment:

vanillagrrl said...

too funny. e said the c word in a recent interview:
More than that, it was very positive having this American record company turn up and be like ‘fuck yeah guys! C’mon!’ in a way it was kind of cheesy, but it was what we needed, this unfettered enthusiasm. Some people criticise the Americans for that, but I think it’s a great trait to just be positive and optimistic…. Funny as shit though at the time.”