THE LINER NOTES:
This tape has been playing in my car on and off for about a year because I hadn’t found the inspiration to write about it until today.
So let me catch you up on the past year.
I’ve been going through some stuff. Had a bit of a mental breakdown. This was brought on mostly by exhaustion, but also by the sudden realization that I didn’t turn out to be the man I was supposed to become. This led to paranoia, anxiety and depression– you know, all the fun stuff you’re not supposed to talk about or admit to. My family right now, if they’re reading this, are CRINGING at the fact that I’m sharing this information. “It’s not the kind of thing we need to be putting out there on the internet for everyone to read about. It’s there forever. You’re children will be reading this some day!” Well, my children lived through it, so giving them a chance to read about it after the fact is an opportunity I’m happy to give to them.
Besides, it’s not like I’m going to get into every gory, emotional detail. Not on this blog, anyway. This blog is about music and my old mixtapes and my old life. And this particular entry is about Gomez. And I’ve often felt that Gomez didn’t turn out to be the band they were supposed to become.
Gomez was full of potential in 1999. Their first album, Bring It On, was released a year earlier and had won Britain’s coveted Mercury Music Prize. A year later, Liquid Skin was released to glowing reviews and the band was headlining Glastonbury. And I was happily along for the ride. I was having a fantastic couple of years myself, with an endless road of possibilities opening up before me. My post-college life was starting to take shape. I had a new girlfriend, a decent job and was living in a city with countless options for creativity.
To save all of you from reading (or rereading) the previous 22 entries, I’ll summarize some key points for you. I graduated from an arts college in 1997 with the hopes of becoming a creator. A creator of characters. A creator of stories. A creator of entertainment. I moved to Los Angeles and co-founded a comedy troupe. I moved back home for a stint and started writing a comedy pilot. I bounced ideas around with old friends for a local access sketch comedy show. I headed back to Boston and lived with my old college roommate Tim. We would constantly knock ideas around– tv shows, movies, we even began talking about how I could perform the stand-up comedy Tim was writing. There was so much opportunity and I was ready for it all. And Gomez was the perfect soundtrack for this stage of my life.
Though labeled as indie rock, Gomez’s sound was a mixture of traditional rock, blues, folk, psychedelia and dashes of other genres as the mood suited them. They were five musicians, four songwriters, three lead singers. From song to song, you weren’t sure what you would hear next– what style, whose voice. Even within the confines of one song, Gomez would take you on a musical journey of twists, trumpets and tempo changes. “Here Comes the Breeze,” off their first album, is a perfect example. The acoustic opening hints to a gentle folk ballad, but then Ben Ottewell’s gruff vocals bring in a bluesy vibe. Psychedelia floats over the whole thing, with its layered guitars and vocal harmonies. Then, three minutes in, everything stops — and picks up again with countrified twang that gives way to hints of electronica before closing out with mini jam session.
This band could go anywhere, in any direction, and so could I. And this is why I listened to them as much as I did during the second half of 1999. They were inspiring and I wanted to be inspired. I was ready to write, perform, produce and create. Anything. Everything. I was the physical manifestation of a Gomez album!
But… time moves on. 17 years later, I still listen to Gomez. I’ve kept up with the band and have all their albums. And whatever it was I thought they would become, they have not. They are not the global superstars I felt they could be– should be. They are not currently writing epic rock operas based on the movies that were inspired by their music videos. Instead, they are writing standard, regular-sounding songs– how they start is how they end. No surprises. Compared to ’99, a lot of these later songs are just… boring. Forgettable. They blend in with everything else around them. You wouldn’t know it was a Gomez song if you heard it. And now I’m starting to depress myself again. All the potential I once had and here I am blending in with everyone else around me. The threat (real or not) of losing my job last year had me thinking about what I could possibly do next. And unlike 1999, my options were now limited. Older and unaccomplished. Nothing to show for the years and years and years and years that have passed without me living up to any of the expectations I once had.
It was kind of a shitty year.
(Now play this song. It fits perfectly.)
THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:
- “Get Miles”
- “The Best in Town”
- “Love is Better Than a Warm Trombone”
- “Get Myself Arrested”
- “Bring It On”
- “Whippin’ Piccadilly”
- “Fill My Cup”
- “Free to Run”
- “Rhythm and Blues Alibi (Pre-Mellotron Version)
- “Chicken Bones”
- “Pick Up the Pieces”
- “Dire Tribe”
- “Revolutionary Kind”
- “Who’s Gonna Go the Bar”
- “Here Comes the Breeze”
- “Las Vegas Dealer”
- “We Haven’t Turned Around”
- “78 Stone Wobble”
- “Old School Shirt”
- “Devil Will Ride”
This Gomez mix is comprised of tracks from their first two albums and the singles that went with them. I was lucky to be living in Boston where Newbury Comics made it a habit of selling the single releases for all my favorite British bands. Singles, by nature, generally have the main song and one or two toss-offs. But there were three bands I loved whose singles always contained songs just as good (if not better) than their albums. Gomez was one of them.
So once I felt I had enough variety of tracks to choose from, I put this mix together. I opened with “Get Miles” for a couple reasons. First, it’s the first song off the first album so… first. But it also has that slow-burn groove that has what I love about an opening track. It’s an introduction. It’s not everything you’re going to get from the band, but it’s a dramatic opening statement.
Track two here is another highlight, but “Hangover” also has a bit of a slow building opening, where the music fades up over an indistinct conversation before eventually fully kicking in. I love the song, but it’s poorly placed here. We had a nice opener, and then we just tried to open things again. So, really, we’re going nowhere.
Since I was pulling this mix together from a finite number of songs, there are quite a few here that I’ve never really gone back to after subsequent albums were released. “The Best in Town” is one. “M57,” “Chicken Bones,” and “So” are a few of the others. They aren’t bad songs, it’s just that better ones followed. For all their potential, there were still some underwhelming moments in those first couple of years.
Surprisingly, along with the clunkers above, there’s another category of songs on this mix that have been equally lost to history. Not because they were bad, but because what followed was better. Songs like “Who’s Gonna Go the Bar,” “Fill My Cup,” and “Las Vegas Dealer” I can now consider forgotten gems. These were songs I clearly loved at the time that have since been overshadowed by later albums. Albums that clearly are not as much of a letdown as I first indicated. For all my complaining about Gomez not becoming the band I thought they could be, that doesn’t actually change the fact that they have been a consistently good band.
WAIT. WHAT? WHY?
Through the last 17 years of listening to Gomez, there is one song– just the one– that I actually kind of hate. I find no joy in listening to it. I always skip it. It bugs me. Something about its balladry just rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s the heavy string arrangement, or maybe it’s because Ottewell’s vocals don’t seem to be the right fit. Maybe because it’s nearly seven minutes of these things. Whatever the reason, you can listen to it here if you’d like.
THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG
There are a lot of songs off this mix that I feel I could put here as the highlight. “Whippin’ Piccadilly” has been featured previously, so that leaves the space open to other obvious choices like “78 Stone Wobble” and “Rhythm and Blues Alibi (Pre-Mellotron Version).” Or, good gravy, listen to “Pick Up the Pieces” again, for crying out loud! While those might be the standouts, I keep getting drawn back to “Revolutionary Kind,” from album number two. It’s another one of those hidden gems that got lost under newer, more immediate material. But now, it resonates. It’s got a simple, bouncy opening hook that grows fuller with each additional instrument and vocal part. And its sentiment is one I can relate to: “Keep on twisting turning/Staring down the sun/Keep on dancing dancing, dance with everyone/You’re not the revolutionary kind.” Essentially, keep on talking big and acting dangerous, but I’m not worried you’ll do anything crazy. You’re not the revolutionary kind. Yeah, that’s me. Add in some great musical looping and a cadre of acoustic guitars, and this is the song that sticks.
Listening to this tape now, with the experience of five more albums, numerous singles and live releases to reflect on, I realize it doesn’t do justice to the band as a whole. It’s not anywhere close to being a perfect representation of who Gomez is. They are so much more now than what they were in 1999. And you can’t fairly judge a band or a person wholly on such a singular, brief period of time.
In reality, the more recent, “boring” Gomez is just another unexpected turn. A career that started one way, but is ending in a completely unexpected direction. I’m sure they don’t look back on 1999 and think about what could have been. Because look at where they are. Look at where I am. My breakdown wasn’t fun, but it helped me realize that this journey isn’t over. The only way that can happen is if I stop it. And there’s simply too much to live for. I’m not who I was in 1999, and I won’t be who I am today in another ten years. I cannot complain, I can only keep going.
I want to hear the next new album, no matter what it sounds like.