In late April of this year, the band Gomez re-released their 1998 Mercury Music Prize-winning epic “Bring It On” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album. The lads from Merseyside were an anodyne to the Britpop/Cool Britannia movement that had started so promisingly but was suffocated in an avalanche of hype. Gomez brought a shock to the system with their singular blending of Blues, Indie, Alternative, Folk, Rock and Experimental Psychedelic genres.
Gomez originated in Southport, Merseyside UK where founders Ian Ball and Olly Peacock had been longtime friends. Along the way, they incorporated neighbourhood friends Paul Blackburn and Tom Gray into the band. They finalized the band rota by adding Ben Ottewell who was friends with Ball at Sheffield University. The name for the band arrived by accident as the group had no name at their first gig but had left a sign outside for a friend stating, “Gomez in here” and so the name was bestowed. In short order, the band started to play gigs and festivals. They recorded and shopped a 4 track demo to a number of record labels and a bidding war erupted. They would eventually play for 25 labels and decide to sign with Virgin imprint Hut Records in September 1997.
For their debut, the band would enter Pair Street Studios and work with producer Ken Nelson. The resulting album would help ameliorate the unsustainable high that was Britpop. Bring it On revelled in the common everyday man and sounded for lack of a better description like it came from another world, or at least from across the pond. The record laid a heavy emphasis on American genres like Blues, Jazz and even flares of Bluegrass. The band approached these genres with a special proprietary blend of quirk and characteristically melancholy mope that the British have in spades. It also bared witness to the wide-ranging record collections the band members own and which played a big part in inspiring the release.
On this anniversary reissue, Gomez offers up a thorough collection of tracks previously left on the cutting floor and recordings of live performances. The 20th Anniversary release of Bring it On offers up a 4 CD box set. Disc One is a re-release of the original recording remastered by Frank Arkwright. The other CDs offer unreleased materials including the band’s Glastonbury set in 1998, B-Sides, and accompanying tracks. Also included are radio sessions performed for the BBC. What is reinforced by these additional materials is the presentation of a debut that offered exceptional craftsmanship and gravitas for a young band. After a listen it is no surprise that Gomez won the Mercury Music Prize in 1998 beat out Massive Attack’s groundbreaking Mezzanine, and The Verve’s Urban Hymns. It is important to remember not only did the critics love the release but commercially it went on to sell platinum spurred on by the singles Get Myself Arrested and Whippin Piccadilly.
Gomez on Bring It On presented themselves as a vocal collective with Ball, Ottewell and Gray providing vocals and band in their entirety providing intuitive, gifted musicianship. There was a sense of fearlessness projected by the band displaying they were unafraid to depart from the trends of the day. This is witnessed by the opening track, Get Miles which instantly transported the listener to a Mississippi delta way with Ottewell’s gravely vocals. The track has an exquisitely meaty musicality that was true to its inspirations. In a few notes, you knew something other was going to happen on this album compared to what was currently being played on the radio. The spazzed out synths, psychedelic blues and heavy wah-wah guitars lent a means of escape from the accepted. That outstanding opener leads into Whippin Piccadilly which was more whimsical as it related the story of a boozy trip to Manchester. It was pulled around psychedelia with a wonky edge and great sound effects that lured in listeners.
Make No Sound again provided the unexpected with a Blues/ Bluegrass acoustic guitar. Ottewell’s vocals harkened to sitting on the back porch in the Southern U.S. and spontaneously belting out a song. The track was a tribute to those musical heritages without getting derivative. To me, 78 Stone Wobble was the most Britpop of the tracks but also acknowledged the work Beck was doing in this period. The track is loaded with wavery psychedelic sonics and a distorted vocal that Beck had made so very popular with Mellow Gold and Odelay.
Tijuana Lady showed the Gomez band members skills on a song that is really a bit of a tightrope walk. The song could easily have become pastiche but is brilliantly nuanced. It has always reminded me of the South California vibe of bands like The Eagles, specifically Tequila Sunrise with its dreamy beer goggled aura. Also, a winner was Here Comes the Breeze which was a great highway rocker that reminded me of the fantastic singer/songwriters of the 70’s as interpreted through a 90’s prism, I often think of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer when I hear this song. Love is better than a Warm Trombone indeed, this track could literally be the musical sire and the template for The Black Keys et al. with its amalgam of Jazz, Blues and Rock, it was funky yet so approachable.
The song that initially attracted the masses to Gomez was Get Myself Arrested which was simply a rollicking good time with its toe-tapping bass lines and driving guitars. The track is loaded with wry humour as it pointed out the inanity of conformity and the “haves” slumming to gain street cred. That idea is so aptly expressed in lines like “he only grows for guys he knows and me”. The track poked fun at posers and prats who truly thought getting arrested was a good thing.
Also impressive is Free to Run with its gorgeous blend of Blues, Folk and Bluegrass. The guitar work on this song is so polished but presented in a very Lo-Fi way. The ballad Bubble Gum Years showed off surprising sophistication. The vocals are untouched and there are great harmonies that impress. Rie’s Wagon is the longest track on the album and is an alluring fusion of Rock, Blues and Soul. It is aggressive rock but also has an overall smoky sinister vibe as it speaks to substance abuse and co-dependency. It is a track that many listeners either love or do not really cotton to, but either way it carries an impact with its exceptional musicianship. The Comeback is the outré to the album with an instrumental that is like a camera pulling back from Gomez’s debut close-up.
Gomez with Bring it On brought back a heap of originality to popular music just when it was once again getting stale from the overexposure of a genre. Where Britpop once barreled over all comers, it had grown tired as it morphed into label generated copycat bands looking to grab the cash. Gomez presented an album that was a tribute to the love of music in all its manifestation no matter how far off the beaten path. It provided feel-good positivism and fed that vibe liberally.
Gomez has continued on in the music making world following up Bring it On with another platinum release Liquid Skin and five additional studio releases. The various band members have worked on numerous collaborations and solo projects and are still active as a band today. Bring it On is a timeless release that is as fresh today as when the needle was first dropped and worthy of all the plaudits it has received. After two decades it is nice to see a celebration of this seminal, direction changing release.