Review Summary: Things change, Gomez stay the same.
Five musicians, four songwriters, three vocalists – one would think that over the course of nearly a decade and a half the differing creative pulls would have torn Gomez apart already. Yet Whatever’s On Your Mind
continues the trend that 2006’s How We Operate
started for a band remarkably consistent in its power-pop output: another great record, chock full of five-part harmonies and crunchy guitar melodies considerably brightened up by the band’s trademark eclecticism. It’s this willingness to play with different genres that has served the band well since they took home the Mercury Music Prize with their 1998 debut, but it’s also experimentation that has been considerably softened over time as the group has turned more and more towards “forward-thinking” pop music that tends to occasionally veer towards Dave Matthews Band-inspired adult contemporary.
Gomez’s continued growth, then, or lack thereof, is a bit disappointing for a band that once showed so much promise with a bastardized version of Britpop that culled its influences from everything from old delta blues to psychedelic folk to jam band noodling. The essential ingredients are all right there and kicking – Whatever’s On Your Mind
evenly splits up vocal duties between Ian Ball and Tom Gray’s more soothing vox and Ben Ottewell’s gravelly howl, and tracks like the complicated pop of “I Will Take You There” and groovy first single “Options” exemplify the best of what make Gomez such an exciting listen, albeit still a defiantly pop outfit. The way instruments drop in and out of the mix, the occasional horn and dub breakdown adding just the right spice to a tune, the fuzzy Sleigh Bells-ish bass thump of “Equalize,” or how “Just As Lost As You” turns a standard power-pop frolic into a surging wave of brass and organ; the band’s songwriting chops have undeniably aged well. If there’s a disappointment here, it’s that the band’s biggest strength in Ottewell’s distinctive pipes has been shackled with more weepy string-laden ballads like the schmaltzy “Our Goodbye” rather than the more in-his-wheelhouse rock of “Equalize.”
For all the studio tricks and bits of stylistic flair the band brings to the table, however, Whatever’s On Your Mind
is still fundamentally the same record the band have been making for quite a while. “Options” is right up there with the strongest singles Gomez have ever penned, but Whatever’s On Your Mind
fails to leave much of a lasting impression aside from the hooks and the impressive way the band can make a straightforward pop tune sonically adventurous. They’ve settled into that sweet spot where they really don’t have to do anything drastic to their sound: they put on a wild live show, and the band’s intimate knowledge of the many ways a pop song can go from being merely serviceable to unique and exciting is something to marvel at after fourteen years. There’s just something vaguely frustrating about a band as intrinsically talented as Gomez seemingly content to live out the rest of their days releasing albums that no one will remember in a few years time, rather than the genre-busting freshness that their debut promised.