After enduring several listens to Gomez’s new album, A New Tide, I sat in front of a blank white screen for several minutes, and then it dawned on me. As harsh as this may sound, a blank white page may be the ideal reaction to this effort. There really isn’t much to say. If you’re familiar with Gomez’s bluesy folk ditties, then you’ll know exactly what’s in store with any Gomez release. Ian Ball will softly and sweetly lull you with his vocal tracks, while Olly Peacock’s growly style provides a boost of adrenalin. And Tom Gray sings the other ones. If you’re not familiar with Gomez, this probably isn’t the place to start. On this, their sixth studio album, Gomez have fought a long hard battle in the music industry and slogged their way to the middle.
I’ve followed Gomez for the past decade, starting with their captivating debut, Bring It On, the album that notoriously beat out Pulp’s This is Hardcore, the Verve’s Urban Hymns, Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, Cornershop’s When I Was Born for the 7th Time and Propellerheads’ Decksandrumsandrockandroll for the Mercury Prize in 1998. With each successive album, as England grew more jaded and disenchanted, the mainstream American listening audience began to catch on. In fact, A New Tide is Gomez’s highest charting album in the United States, and nearly the lowest in the U.K. (That honor belongs to How We Operate). Gomez has played the American music game perfectly. They signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO label, toured with various jam bands who make a good living from the live circuit, and have maneuvered many of their songs into high profile commercials and television shows.
Remember those Philips commercials that had the really bland and awful cover of the Beatles’ “Getting Better?” Yep, that was Gomez. I didn’t realize it until recently, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. How I felt about that cover version is pretty much how I feel about A New Tide. It’s ok, but not nearly as good as it used to be. When you hear “Getting Better” on those commercials, you at first think, “Hey! It’s the Beatles! Alright!” Then it sinks in that it’s not the Beatles at all, but a pale imitation. A New Tide is an incredibly pale imitation of Gomez. I know how ludicrous that sounds, but I think hardcore fans of the band, their live shows, and early work will understand. Most of the songs on the new album are meticulously produced by Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Josh Ritter), arranged and played. Yet, they lack a fire, innovation and imagination seen on previous releases.
There are a few standout moments on A New Tide. I don’t want to bash it, entirely. “Win Park Slope” is entrancing, leading into hypnotic choruses and a gorgeous coda. It doesn’t hurt to have a delicate string duo and Amy Millan on backup vocals. Single release “Airstream Driver” owes some lyrical credit to Tim Rutili and Tim Hurley of Red Red Meat, but what Gomez does with those lyrics is something entirely new, and maybe the most interesting track on the album. Otherwise, the rest of A New Tide betrays its title. This is the same ebb and flow of three singers creating a jammy, folky, bluesy naptime soundtrack. Instead of a band that could give Pulp, Massive Attack and the Verve a run for their money, they’ve essentially made themselves into the blandest of MOR material, nestled snugly between Jack Johnson, John Mayer and a host of other vanilla singer / songwriters blend into a crowd faster than Waldo.
I am reminded of yet another Beatles anecdote. Friends of mine know how much I despise Across the Universe. What that film and soundtrack has done to the Beatles’ catalog, and to the spirit of the ’60s itself, is inexcusable. One woman approached me and said she loved Across the Universe because the actors / singers are “sooo much better than those awful Beatles.” It took all my strength to keep from permanently disfiguring her. Somehow, most Americans have lost sight of what has come before. Whether it’s this insane woman with the Beatles, or `new’ Gomez fans with their early albums. A New Tide is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, with the resultant fading on each successive attempt. The Brits seem to understand, and that understanding is reflected in their album charts, but Americans seemingly flock to things that become diluted.
David Gray – White Ladder
John Mayer – Continuum
Josh Kelley – For the Ride Home