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The return of old friends enjoying themselves
on 9 June 2011
This is not the greatest album of all time, but it is an extremely good seventh product of a long journey.
Gomez first won a place in the popular consciousness through albums they recorded when they were very young and seemed to be having the time of their lives. They were not the sort obviously destined to make it big, but appeared in the mainstream as the result of an unexpected Mercury Music Prize win. I encountered them at seventeen, just after I had spent the money from my weekend job on buying an over-expensive cassette Walkman. A silver one no less, beautifully designed to seem far more advanced than the tapes I could feel it move around on at the end of each side. It beeped in my ears every time I pressed one of the buttons set into its front. That's right, the buttons were on the front where you just wouldn't expect them. It beeped.
The buy was to make up for what I thought was a yawning vaccuum of musical knowledge at my core; the only influences I remember being subjected to by my parents were Elvis love songs, Christian Rock and the occasional NOW! album. At the time it seemed to be that normal teenage boys were supposed to like Oasis, Blur, The Prodigy or the newly resurgent Beatles. That was pretty much the extent of the chatter in my corner of the Home Counties, where television, Radio 1 and Chris Evans ruled from on high. In that context, Gomez's first, 'Bring It On', was an exciting discovery and became one a few tapes I had on constant rotation. I didn't have many tapes of course, because the walkman had cost so much. My attempt at widening my horizons had stumbled. The Walkman was silver though. It beeped.
A student loan later that year suddenly made me a man cheerfully spending my future self's means; before long I had invested in a Minidisc Walkman, continuing my trend of admiring the soon to be thought pointless. This one didn't even beep, but it was shiny and sprung open in earnest. I also went a little bit too far on 3 for 2 CD deals at HMV using of all things, Q Magazine as my guide. Time and money could have been saved through meeting someone as keen, yet more savvy than me. The Internet of 2011 personified perhaps. Nonetheless, no matter what music has come along since, I have followed Gomez (to the confusion of some) and cherished the glimmers of that joy in creation they once wore effortlessly as their career had exploded into life. They were only glimmers, as they seemed to be aiming at slightly different sound once UK interest and investment in them faded. Pleasing an audience is one thing, but trying to please America, well, that way creative bankruptcy and deadened eyes can easily lay.
That didn't happen, but this is the first album since 2004's 'Split the Difference' on which the first instinct hasn't been to skip a few of the tracks on account of them feeling painfully twee or using a 'quiet/loud/quiet/loud' structure which crushed the song. There being nothing here worthy of being automatically ditched could be explained by this being the first album since 'In Our Gun' (2002) where they have been given the freedom to largely self-produce. It is far more consistently, joyously 'Gomez', grabs you more than their last album did at first and has plenty of tracks to love. I can't stop listening to 'Equalise' for instance. Others seep into the brain too. At first the production on the title track and 'Our Goodbye' tried my patience: they are simple but touching ballads about real people that don't seem to need orchestral backing (as is evidenced by some live acoustic versions knocking about on video channels). Despite that irritability, I caught myself humming one of them in the kitchen.
They were never exactly avant-garde, but the overall effect of the group having moved toward the more radio friendly is that the creativity is more tightly structured than their early, more woozy stuff. Some might mourn the loss of the free-form tinkerers or mistake it for an attempt at commercial success, but it's just a later incarnation of musicians who have a long history of producing underrated guitar-based albums together. They have endured, unlike my Minidiscs, which sit somewhere in a box, exactly as they were a decade ago but redundant.
I now have an iPhone that chimes, clicks, lacks any semblance of character and needs a good polish just to have a bit of lustre. I also have far broader tastes than I did at seventeen, but if I were reduced to just a few C60 tapes for the next six months then I would be more than happy to have this album on one. The details in the mix and frankness of the lyrics repay repeat listens. Many of those lyrics are especially meaningful if you've ever had the sorts of conversations needed in keeping a long relationship going.
A little like the Walkman I first bought, the format isn't groundbreaking, but the sentiments, design and execution - what they've done within a format - makes it immensely satisfying. It's a nuanced, very shiny, delightfully beeping version of the well established. Surely everyone has a soft spot for shiny-beepy with moving parts. Or is it just me?