A disappointing return from the former Mercury champions
Mike Haydock 2011-08-05
It’s a long time since Gomez won the Mercury Music Prize. Thirteen years, to be precise, since they beat The Verve, Massive Attack and Pulp to the award back in 1998. And after one spin of this, their seventh studio album, you’ll think it was even longer ago. Perhaps in another life altogether.
To be fair, Gomez have been sliding towards middle-of-the-road mediocrity for a while now. Those first three albums - Bring it On, Liquid Skin, and In Our Gun - were rife with a sense of raw, youthful experimentation, blending British and American folk with some weird bleeps and beats, the three-way vocals complementing each other. But then the standard started to slip: the rough edges were gradually polished smooth on Gomez’s next three records, the passion dissolving as the melodies and chord progressions became safer and neater. The band members got bored, and started dallying with side projects.
So it’s not like we haven’t been warned about the contents of Whatever’s on Your Mind before pressing play. It proves a natural follow-up to 2009’s A New Tide. But that doesn’t stop it being disappointing, as though your childhood memories are being soiled.
It’s important to note that there are some solid pop songs here. The choruses on Options and Just as Lost as You - both sung by baby-faced, simple-voiced Ian Hall - are upbeat and catchy, and you could imagine them generating a cheery singalong at a small summer folk festival in a field in the Home Counties. There are also a few shuffling rhythms that prick the ears up: Song in My Heart harks back to Gomez’s earlier days (though in a dampened, restrained fashion), and Equalize is driven forward by a booming bass throb.
That song, Equalize, also represents the only moment on this album when Ben Ottewell’s fantastic croaky vocal cuts loose and roars. You could argue it’s Gomez’s signature sound, his voice, yet throughout this record he holds back on us, offering only a couple of meagre ballads (the title track and Our Goodbye) that test the patience. And that’s the tone of the whole of Whatever’s On Your Mind: a sense of passion being held back. It’s a perfectly decent pop record with some pretty melodies, but it lacks the sparkle that once made this band compelling to listen to.