If the first three songs of How We Operate were an accurate indicator of the entire album, this would have been a rave review. Gomez has often been slapped with the jam-band label (moving to Dave Matthews’ label, ATO, probably won’t do much to cure that), but Tom Gray, Ben Ottewell, Ian Ball, Paul Blackburn, and Olly Peacock are capable of crafting a tight, simple melody or a three-minute pop song. They start out here with a handful of gems, but they’re unable to sustain that level of quality. In all fairness, it’s a tall order.
For this go-around, the band’s first studio album after being dropped by Virgin, Gomez has enlisted Gil Norton to supposedly Doolittle-up the proceedings. Norton’s touch is unobtrusive; the band members have changed their sound in subtle ways, but there are no radical departures here. The best that can be said is that How We Operate is a more cohesive work than 2004’s decent but scattershot Split the Difference, but it’s far from the band’s most exciting.
But at least it starts off promisingly enough. “Notice” is a soft-spoken mid-tempo ballad, all the more effective in its simplicity. Ball sings “I stopped tryin’ to write the things I don’t like/ And I started goin’ back to where I’d been before.” And, hey, more power to him. “See the World” is a bright toe-tapper of the jug-band variety. The title track, released as the first single, is quintessential Gomez. Commencing with a quiet, vaguely sinister guitar and banjo picking in tandem, the track builds deliberately, layering Ottewell’s gruff vocals, drums and bass into the fold and ramping up toward a spacey power-chord chorus.
But almost nothing else swings quite like the first three tracks. “Hamoa Beach,” although it’s a virtual rewrite of Doves‘ “There Goes the Fear,” is agreeable enough, but “Girlshapedlovedrug” is uninspiredbelaboredmetaphor, and the proceedings from there plateau.
There aren’t any real missteps, but neither is How We Operate a step forward. And for a band with as much talent as Gomez, an album that feels like a bit of a holding pattern can’t help but feel like a relative disappointment.
Prefix review: Gomez [Out West] by Chris Pacifico