Had a shitty day? Here’s some chilled-out experimentation from one of Britain’s most unappreciated acts.
Who made it?: Gomez (Producers), Hut/Virgin (Label).
Who’s on it?: Ian Ball (Vocals/Guitar), Ben Ottewell (Vocals/Guitar), Tom Gray (Vocals/Guitar/Keyboards), Paul Blackburn (Bass), Olly Peacock (Drums/Synths /Computers).
Recorded at: Batsford Manor and Real World Studios.
Release date: 18 March 2002.
If we are to believe the liner notes for their 2006 “Rarities” collection, Gomez got their record deal with Hut (a subsidiary of Virgin) by playing their debut album, Bring It On (1998), on pots and pans in the owner’s kitchen. It’s a wonderful story that I hope is true, especially when you consider how great the resulting album is. It isn’t quite indie – too mellow for that label. And it isn’t hard enough to be classed as rock. Gomez’s sound is somewhere between the “folktronica” of The Beta Band and the commercial lyricism of Oasis. As one of the band’s three vocalists, Ian Ball, put it, Bring It On was “teenagers doing too much acid in the North West of England, listening to crazy fucking psychedelia and into doing mad shit. We were doing it purely for our own enjoyment.” And yet they were highly successful.
It always amuses me that, fourteen years after they burst onto the scene, Gomez remains a cult band. This is despite the fact that their first two albums, including the majestic Liquid Skin, went platinum in the UK. They even bagged the Mercury Music Prize in 1998. As with so many indie rock bands of the period, their media attention soon tailed-off, but they continued to put out high-quality records that pushed their spaced-out sound as far as it could go, and got great reviews from the less ignorant. Yet if you were to ask a hundred passers-by in the street if they’d heard Gomez, you’d be lucky to find one. Where did all the fans go that bought those initial albums?
2002′s In Our Gun defied convention by being a difficult third album – it’s usually the second that “dooms” most bands. It wasn’t difficult creatively, but the reception was more critical. In Our Gun managed to crack the top 10 in the UK album chart, but never achieved the same success as Bring It On or Liquid Skin. That has more or less defined the band’s popularity for the last decade – they sell reasonably well, but endure due to a network of dedicated and loyal fans on the road. Gomez deserve more than that, and In Our Gun should get more love than it did at the time. The sudden turn to techno-inflected jams might not have been what fans were expecting, but it defined Gomez as a band that weren’t content to trot out the same material each time.
“Shot Shot” makes the album’s intentions known; a delightfully funky opener with a great acoustic guitar riff and some on-the-nose lyrics about selling out. The irony being that Gomez have never made concessions to a more mainstream sound. “Shot Shot” solidifies this, and revels in the computer-enhanced tricks that In Our Gun thrives on. This electronic experimentation is also evident in “Rex Kramer” and “Detroit Swing 66,” slow-burn tunes that hook you with their grooves and chill you out with harmonised vocals.
“Ruff Stuff” and “Army Dub” showcase the album’s weird bent, with the former’s paean to drug use seeming rather appropriate on a trippy platter such as this. It’s slow and rather deliberate in its meaning, but flows with precision. “Army Dub” is even better, and a track that was ahead of its time in just about every respect. Can you name another band that sounded like this in 2002?
The remaining tracks include show-stoppers “Ping One Down” and “Ballad of Nice & Easy.” “Ping…” has been one of Gomez’s live favourites to this day, and it isn’t hard to hear why. It has an arresting sweep to it that makes it the album’s demo highlight, and it must be said that everything works here. Ben Ottewell simply kills this one vocally, and the rest of the band compliment him admirably with some carefully modulated guitar work. Just check-out the performance of it on Jools Holland (below). Flawless British funk.
In contrast, “Ballad…” is pure easy-listening confection and an ideal soundtrack to a warm summer’s day. It ends the album on a note of joy that allows you to forget In Our Gun‘s darker undertones and smile. This is Gomez at their very best – unconventional, relaxed and excited at the musical possibilities.
Thirteen years after it perplexed mainstream critics, In Our Gun is looking like a forgotten gem that was just too out-there for music fans at the time. With the rising popularity in dub-step and more electronically oriented hits, it is a much more enjoyable brew now. It is also a singular release in Gomez’s discography – they would go on to write more indie-based tracks for the excellent follow-up, Split the Difference (2004), and get even more low-key with the Gil Norton-produced How We Operate (2006). They are constantly changing and recalibrating their sound, and for that I must applaud them. Give them a spin.
- The single “Shot Shot” charted in the UK top 40 and made the top 20 in Portugal. The album also made the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
- Additional recordings for the album were done at Abbey Road Studios.
- The track “Rex Kramer” is named after a character from the movie Airplane, the second time Gomez have done this after their b-side “Steve McCroski” from Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline.