Here’s a clip of Southport quintet, and former Mercury-prize winners Gomez. It’s “Rhythm & Blues Alibi”, a key track as taken from their second album, 1999’s Liquid Skin. This record was the follow-up to their universally praised debut Bring It On, which placed quite a bit of pressure on the young band to come up with something great. And that’s what they did, with this song as something of a sonic reference point to their approach, mixing subtle electronics, folk-rock, blues, and classic British guitar-rock.
The band stood out on their debut as not quite fitting in with what other bands of their strain were doing at the time. Gomez referenced rootsier sources, while also using treated sounds and supplemental beats to offset traditional rock expectations. But on this record, they left some of their lo-fi sensibilities that were so prominent on their debut behind them and embraced a fuller sound.
And despite success of the singles off of the record, and the platinum sales figures, rock snobbery in some quarters decreed that they had had their time in the sun with Bring It On, and that it was all ‘diminishing returns’ from Gomez.
The band couldn’t have been unaware of this tendency of British critics to write off the follow-ups to critically acclaimed albums. And it’s this that makes me think that these kinds of criticisms are worked into the lines of this song.
This song was a success in the UK, scoring a top 20 placement in the charts, and showing fans and casual listeners that they had consolidated their own sound, referencing gnarly blues traditions, and putting them into a late-’90s context in a way that none of their peers (with the possible exception of the Beta Band) had been able to do. It could be argued of course that not too many other bands had really attempted what Gomez were attempting, which could account for the ‘diminishing returns’ F key style criticism aimed at them around the time this record came out.
But, the mission of the band seemed to be clear with the new record. Despite any pressures they may or may not have felt with the weight of a celebrated debut behind them, they managed to craft a unique sound for the follow up, while also not forgetting to write good songs.
Gomez did so by undercutting the rootsy influences with a more European use of technology beyond guitar-bass-drums to bring al of those other elements into balance. But, it’s the song’s lyrics that seem to give away a certain self-awareness at being a British band delving into traditions from another culture, and from a time that pre-existed them, with “chasing after stories that have already been told” and “cannot look old Son House in the eye” being stand-outs.
Yet, in many ways, that’s what every band does – pursue stories that have already been told, and adding their own piece to that greater narrative, or cultural thread. To me, this is what this song is about. The lyrics can stand as a sort of counter-argument to any criticisms that musical traditions can in fact be owned, or be held to ideas of cultural authenticity. As proven here, pop music is an evolving and elusive beast that ignores borders and nationalities. The only way to pin it down is to appreciate it for what it is, whether you’re creating it, listening to it, or shaking your body to it on the TV screen.
That’s as airtight an alibi as any band is going to get.
Gomez would continue along their own track stylistically over their now 15 year career, more recently scoring their biggest success with latest albums How We Operate (2006), A New Tide (2009), and Whatever’s On Your Mind (2011) showing their skills in writing straight-ahead rock songs, and through the use of more experimental pop textures that live side by side on very cohesive albums.
Check out gomeztheband.com for updates on new releases and tours.