In 1998, Gomez recorded its debut, Bring It On, in a bleak, bone-chilling garage in Southport, England. The charming and often beautifully lo-fi collection of noisy roots-rock (akin to early Beck) started a label bidding war, eventually leading to the distinguished Mercury Music Prize (beating out icons Massive Attack and the Verve).
But the band has never been able to best that elephantine piece of musical mayhem. How We Operate, Gomez's fifth studio work to date, is easily the best the band's produced in nearly a decade, but it still pales in comparison: The new 12-song set is a radio-ready collection of moody and mellow guitar rock, where songs like "Notice" and "See the World" concentrate on mixing elegant studio melodies with meaningful motifs about love, fear, and growing up. And even though you can vaguely hear the hooliganism of a young Gomez on songs such as "Hamoa Beach," the new set still lacks the rowdy, inebriated soul of classics like "Get Myself Arrested" and "78 Stone Wobble."
Hopefully, one day, Gomez will return to that dingy garage and record its second masterpiece, but until then, the band can stick to the formula heard on its 2005 live disc, Out West, and lean heavily on its first album when jamming live.