Adding a dose of rootsy American influences to memorable British pop melodies, the genre-blending Gomez seemed determined to provide the indie scene with something more wide-ranging and dynamic when they arrived in the late 90s. They surprised everyone when their 1998 debut LP 'Bring It On' won them the Mercury Music Prize, catapulting them into the spotlight and making them the subject of hype for the music press, keen to find a new potential phenomenon after the Britpop years had come to an end. So it's understandable that their second album, 1999's 'Liquid Skin' arrived to some high expectations.
While Gomez never quite stepped into the big league, 'Liquid Skin' earned them a platinum disc, and they went on to become a lot more successful Stateside than many other British bands from their era. Eventually, two of their members set up homes in America, and in recent years there have been a number of solo records from members of the group. Complete with the original line-up fully intact after all this time, they celebrated the 20th anniversary of 'Bring It On' in 2018 by playing it in full on tour and releasing an expanded version of the LP. This year, the sophomore 'Liquid Skin' gets the same treatment. The first CD finds the original album accompanied by a selection of songs that have remained unreleased until now.
It kicks off very well with the sitar-assisted brilliance of tone-setting opener 'Hangover', developing into a jigsaw of stringed instruments before ending with a spot of those trademark 3-way harmonies. While the arrangements can be intricate, songs such as the folky 'Revolutionary Kind' use simple repeated guitar hooks as their base, leaving the band to playfully add the colours and texture that defines their sound. Many of the tracks here were written during the recording of the debut, in fact, the lead single shares it's name with that first album but appears here instead. Probably just as well, since their shift in status had allowed them a substantially larger recording budget, which definitely does justice to what a brilliant song 'Bring It On' is. It's also very possibly the definitive Gomez track, encapsulating their spirit and approach in just over 4 minutes.
'Blue Moon Rising' evolves from jazz-soul into something almost resembling Pearl Jam going Latin-country, 'Las Vegas Dealer' delves into odd time signatures while Northern Soul piano blends with ska rhythms. Again, it may have still been the 1990s, but "Britpop" this was certainly not. Topped by some wondrous, sparse touches of cello, 'We Haven't Turned Around' is anthemic balladry done the Gomez way; understated, soulful and with a distinctive hint of earthy funk.
The raucous 'Fill My Cup' is a track that sounds very likely to have come from the Abbey Road sessions, full of off-kilter 'White Album'-like piano, strong deep Southern flavours and the occasional manic outburst. It comes as no surprise that the record's highest-charting hit single was the joyous 'Rhythm And Blues Alibi', another superbly arranged helping of "juke joint smoked paradise" which is as beautiful as it is easy-going, sounding even more wonderful 20 years on. 'Rosalita' is the musical equivalent of a stoned laze in the sun, 'California' offers a pleasingly trippy Eastern-flavoured intro before grubby electric guitar riffage transforms it into heavily percussive grunge-blues, while the (main album) closer 'Devil Will Ride' follows on cohesively, surprising with spells of dazzling mellotron, bursts of resonant brass, and excellent vocodered vocals.
While it's fair to say that 'Liquid Skin' was very much a bigger, more lavishly produced relative of its predecessor 'Bring It On', but with a bigger range of instrumentation and a greater sense of focus. However, there is more genuine gold to be found on this expanded reissue, as the unreleased recordings provide some fine enhancements to the original release. There's the minimal production, sunny melody, looping beauty, and hints of peak-era Mc Cartney on lost treasure 'Throwing Myself Away', which would've arguably improved the original album. 'Someday' moves into lo-fi funk-folk, and hip hop beats to fuel the very odd and very impressive electronic blues oddity 'Summer', another cut from the archive that would've made 'Liquid Skin' a more diverse collection.
As well as the woozy, acoustic 'Nobody's Girl', there's 'Brother Lead', where 60's psychedelia meets 70's disco meets 90s alt-rock, and the gravelly vocal is dialled up to 11. The material on the second CD varies on quality, completely excluding the B sides from the album's three singles in favour of stripped-down doodles like 'High On Liquid Skin', and an inferior recording of 'We Haven't Turned Around', minus the stunning cello. After an interesting yet hardly essential variation of 'Rosalita', the acoustic rendition of 'Las Vegas Dealer' is probably the best of the unreleased tracks that kick off CD2. The majority of the disc is occupied by a nine-song set recorded at The Fillmore in San Francisco, showcasing the group's versatility and tightness as a live act.
As well as an energised rendition of 'Hangover', a loose and melodic 'Rhythm And Blues Alibi', an atmospheric 'Rosemary', and a crazy performance of 'Las Vegas Dealer', they turn the epic 'Devil Will Ride' into a bona fide singalong. Then there's an ambitious, sample-loaded 'Bring It On', showing that it's a song that can be toyed with endlessly. Meanwhile, the moody 'Do's And Don'ts' would end up as a track on the following year's 'Maschismo' EP. Rounding things off is another fascinating outtake entitled 'Gomez In A Bucket (A Seaside Town Made Of Ice Cream Slowly Melting)', at first sounding a bit like The Orb soundtracking a medieval fantasy, then like an African group playing The Fall, before cosmic bubbling sounds attach it to a pastoral folk ballad section. A spell of techno emerges, neatly unfolding into a hazy psychedelic rock that soon finds itself in the growling electronica territory of Death In Vegas, the next second reaching its gentle, dreamy conclusion. At over 10 minutes long, it's a reminder (if any were needed) that Gomez were way ahead of many other British bands at the time.
Despite missing an opportunity to also include the B sides from the era, some of the unreleased material here is fantastic and undoubtedly essential for any fan of this unique outfit. The live tracks are also well worth the additional few quid to upgrade to this reissue, providing generous value for money.