There is a curse attached to the U.K.'s coveted Mercury Music Prize, commonly referred to as "mercury poisoning." Previous winners like Roni Size, Talvin Singh and Badly Drawn Boy have been doomed with a steady decline in album sales and label support. Gomez is one of those bands, but it's getting back on its feet.
The Southport, England, quintet formed in 1996 and quickly gained a local following with its unique brand of bluesy rock and psychedelic pop. With multiple singers and songwriters (led by Ben Ottewell's distinctively gritty voice) and its proximity to Liverpool, Gomez was expected to be the next Beatles. Labels came calling, and the band's debut, Bring It On, took the Mercury in 1998.
What happened next seemed inevitable. Follow-up albums charmed critics but failed to win over American audiences. Meanwhile, sales were slipping at home. When Gomez released its fourth album in 2004, Split the Difference, things started to fall apart.
"We originally signed to Hut Records [a Virgin subsidiary] in the U.K.," says Ottewell. "They closed down a week before we released the last record, so apart from a few people at Virgin that were working in their spare time, we didn't really have any kind of campaign -- you know, the kind of thing that bands normally have when they release an album."
Released earlier this month, How We Operate is the band's first studio recording on ATO Records, also home to My Morning Jacket and David Gray. "It feels good to have people look out for you," Ottewell says. "A lot of things have changed since the last time we released a record."
No longer college kids, the members of Gomez are now scattered across both sides of the Atlantic, starting families and growing up. "Even though there are different songwriters in the band, this is more of a personal record," Ottewell explains. "It's not necessarily what you want to write about, or what you feel you should write about. It's just what comes out."
To keep things simple, Gomez leaned on Gil Norton, whose production credits include the Foo Fighters and the Pixies. "This is the first time that we've used a producer," Ottewell says. "That kind of freed us up. It allowed us to not think too much about sound."
While previous releases were weighed down with lengthy epics and unpolished experimentation, How We Operate comes across as the band's most straightforward record. "Chasing Ghosts With Alcohol" turns a simple blues number into a sonic tornado, while songs like "Girlshapedlovedrug" and "Woman! Man!" revisit the band's early pop songwriting roots.
"I think this is probably the best lyrical record we've made, and probably the most honest, as well," Ottewell says.
Not a bad way to operate.
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