For bands whose debut recordings are more popular with critics than they are with mainstream or even college/indie rock listeners, the temptation to diffuse key elements of individuality and musical discovery can be a problem when it comes time for that tenuous sophomore release. Many bands seem to decide that if their sound isn't broken, it shouldn't be fixed. Fortunately, Gomez's musical convictions continue to fuse and improve on Liquid Skin, the densely constructed, earnestly executed second offering from the British outfit whose debut Bring It On was a critical darling both in the U.K. and Stateside. A self-described "psychedelic blues" band, Gomez attempts to merge the slow melancholy of blues with the meandering jams of Beatles-esque psychedelic rock -- which might sound like an overly avant-garde attempt at coolness. But like Beck, who continually makes popular music that culminates as a brilliant sum of its parts, Gomez has managed to create something solid out of the pastiche of its musical influences.

Three of the five bandmembers share lead vocals on this complex release. And while Ian Ball, Tom Gray and Ben Ottewell are all talented enough vocalists to fulfill full-time frontman duties, Ottewell's raspy delivery is the most distinctive. His vocals on the chorus of the brilliantly conceived "Rhythm and Blues Alibi" and the jazz-blues funk of "Blue Moon Rising" are reminiscent of Joe Cocker; it's hard to believe that such a voice comes out of a bespectacled, unassuming-looking Liverpool native barely out of his teens.

The triple threat of these vocalists combined with Gomez's intricate musical architecture make it easy to overlook the lyrics of the eleven songs here. Granted, Gomez rarely has any profound meanings in its songs; the lyrics either intone for effect rather than content (the woozy, piano-driven "Las Vegas Dealer") or bemoan lost love in an intoxicated dreamy haze of spare, cavernous sound ("Rosalita"). Only "Rhythm and Blues Alibi," a thinly disguised barb directed at "sellout" artists falsely constructing their identities, broaches larger themes: "You can write your tunes/With rhythm and blues as your alibi/You can sell your soul/And lay the blame on the passersby/Shake your body on the TV screen/It seems to me/You try everything twice/There's nothing to let anyone care."

There isn't an insincere note to be found in the varied textures of each song, yet the bandmembers seem to be having a ball making an album full of everything they can experiment with. The final song, "Devil Will Ride," is a case in point, a genre-hopping, layered display of Gomez's electric, eclectic sound. During the course of its seven minutes, the song moves from soft Sixties folk rock to blaring horns and vocals sung through a vocoder -- no small feat.

Liquid Skin proves that Bring It On was not a critically acclaimed fluke or a temporary stroke of musical genius. Instead, the album is further evidence that the band's startling sound should only get better. Time will tell.


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