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After 15 years of making music, Gomez could be considered veterans in the world of alternative rock. They’ve established themselves as forward-thinking Brits with a knack for creating genre-blurring songs amongst a democracy of songwriters and singers. Their 1998 Mercury Music Prize winning debut album, Bring It On, and extensive back catalogue is enough to allow them to continue to hold their heads up high. But after all these years, the release of Whatever’s On Your Mind shows signs of a dimming in their creative spark.
There’s nothing overtly new, exciting or challenging about this album. For a band renowned as being innovators, Gomez stick to a conventional format on Whatever’s On Your Mind, with fairly straightforward alternative rock songs, most of which clock in at around the radio-friendly three and a half minute mark. Unlike the epic sprawl of ‘We Haven’t Turned Around‘ from Liquid Skin or quirky experimentation of ‘Machismo‘- from the EP of the same name- portions of this album sound contrived and lacking the same passion and substance as previous releases from the band. For instance, although lead single ‘Options‘ is enjoyable with its driving acoustic guitar riff, horns and sing-along chorus, ‘I Will Take You There‘ is a summery jam that washes over the listener without any lasting impact while ‘Just As Lost As You‘ and ‘The Place and The People‘ border on cheesy top-of-the-pops type radio pomp. Further down the scale is a track like ‘That Wolf‘, which is a forgettable, throwaway of a song that’s all poppy gloss, cringe-worthy lyrics (“the way she makes me feel, this life won’t last forever”) with no soul or feeling.
The conservative musical direction of this LP could potentially be traced back to Gomez’s decision to write the album by correspondence (the band members sent song ideas to one another via the internet and other forms of technology, piecing it together over the course of several months). This artificial method of collaboration – though appealing to those geographically dispersed – could perhaps be responsible for the simplified and unadventurous song structures on the album.
Nevertheless, it’s not necessarily all bad. Vocalist Ben Ottewell’s moments in the spotlight redeem some of the album’s weaker moments. His idiosyncratic voice is a potent ingredient in Gomez’s collage of sound, as he breaths life into the title-track with his husky, yet powerful croon as well as during ‘Equalize‘, which features big thumping bass, fuzzy bluesy guitars and quirky sound effects that hark back to the band’s glory days (it’s got more attitude than the wish-wash of earlier cuts from the album, but unfortunately comes as too little, too late). Additionally, ‘Our Goodbye‘ is spruced up with orchestral flourishes and could easy be an off-cut from Ottewell’s impressive recent solo album, Shapes and Shadows.
Gomez have decided to play it safe on album number seven. In the past, they’ve proved they’re capable of distilling a range of musical influences, ranging from alt-rock and blues through to electronica and post-punk, into a unique musical blend. However, Whatever’s On Your Mind is very neatly packaged and predictable in comparison to past albums. While it’s catchy at times, it also comes off as rigid and calculated due to the fact it was essentially written via an exchange of ideas in cyberspace. What was once fresh and exciting is unfortunately a little stale this time round.
2. I Will Take You There
3. Whatever’s On Your Mind
4. Just As Lost As You
5. The Place And The People
6. Our Goodbye
7. Song In My Heart
9. That Wolf