Molten Wax

Gomez
Liquid Skin

(Virgin)

When Gomez released its debut album, Bring It On, last year, the group immediately drew favorable comparisons to everything from the Beatles, to the Band, and Beck in its native England. The band won the U.K.'s coveted Mercury Prize, a slew of other music biz awards followed, and the album went platinum in its home country (sales of 300,000 copies). But for most Yanks -- save a cadre of sympathetic rock critics -- Gomez was hardly international news. Granted, the group did score a massive hit in the world of TV jingles with its cover of the Beatles' "Getting Better" for Phillips TV. But aside from the high-profile product push, the band went all but unnoticed on these shores. Given that, the relative level of anticipation surrounding the release of the group's second album, Liquid Skin, seems a bit odd. Historically, well-hyped British bands that fizzle across the pond are nothing new (think Swing Out Sister, Johnny Hates Jazz, Stone Roses). That's not to say that Gomez isn't a good band -- it is -- it's just that aimless is probably a much better description. Still, Liquid Skin does have its share of worthy moments.

Singer Ben Otwell's unique rasp navigates the percussive touches on "Las Vegas Dealer" as well as the acoustic lilt of "Rosalita" to good effect. On "Bring It On," a hypnotic drone quickly gives way to a catchy pop chorus that in turn mutates into a bluesy midtempo stomp. Whether they come midsong or midnote, such seamless shifts are what Gomez does best. But unfortunately, the moments where that type of musical sleight of hand works effectively are few and far between.

Getting Better? British rockers Gomez fall short with sophomore release.
Getting Better? British rockers Gomez fall short with sophomore release.
Between the Cracks: Okie pop king Dwight Twilley digs up some of his early '80s EMI-era nuggets.
Between the Cracks: Okie pop king Dwight Twilley digs up some of his early '80s EMI-era nuggets.

Songs like "We Haven't Turned Around" and "Rhythm & Blues Alibi" seem to wander endlessly. And while the trip may have its fair share of sights, chances are you'll lose interest before getting to the ultimate destination. The band does deserve credit for its daring in piecing together seemingly incongruous styles and sounds. But often, this sonic eclecticism tends to teeter on the brink of pretension: The sitar lines on "Hangover" mar an otherwise enjoyable track; the nearly seven-minute album closer, "Devil Will Ride," plods along, deluged by overwrought guitars and strings; while the stylistic reach of "Blue Moon Rising" amounts to little more than a quiet, jazzy bore. That song in particular seems to represent the problem with most of the material on Liquid Skin. Like the rest of the tracks, it has a grand sense of dynamics -- rising and falling admirably -- but ultimately it fails to move you in the right way.

The members of Gomez often like to trumpet the fact that their wide range of influences don't include punk rock. That proves to be more of a problem than a selling point. Despite Gomez's ability to create interesting textures and engaging moments, the truth is that it tends to veer more toward the creative indulgence and post-hippie laziness of early '70s music, the very things that the safety-pinned British revolutionaries of 1977 fought so hard to overthrow. -- Bob Mehr

Dwight Twilley
Tulsa
(Copper Records)

Between the Cracks -- Vol. 1
(Not Lame Records)

Like a good all-ends-well tale, the career rehabilitation of Okie pop king Dwight Twilley began innocuously enough around the turn of the decade when his stone-classic '76 debut, Sincerely, was finally released on compact disc. Containing the Top 20 hit "I'm on Fire" -- to this day the tune, equal parts Elvis, Beatles, and T. Rex, remains a staple of power-pop compilations and mix tapes -- plus a wealth of memorable jangly rockers, rockabilly rave-ups and '50s-style ballads, the remastered set additionally contained a non-LP B-side and three previously unreleased gems. As has become customary for reissues -- no big deal, right?

Wrong. Among Twilley aficionados, the amount of material left in the can, considering what actually surfaced on the five albums that would come out under his name during the ensuing decade, is the stuff of legend. By '87, however, despite having scored a major chart and MTV hit a couple of years earlier with "Girls," the songwriter found himself stuck in L.A. without a record deal. So he busied himself otherwise, first authoring, believe it or not, a best-selling parenting book, then "retiring" back to Tulsa to build a home recording studio. Meanwhile, his fan base never went away, and when a 25-song collection of unreleased tracks titled The Great Lost Twilley Album appeared in '93, followed in '96 by Dwight Twilley XXI, a hand-picked best-of featuring two brand-new songs, speculation ran high that the man was ready to get back on the horse.

Sure enough, Tulsa signals Dwight Twilley's welcome return to the national scene. It contains all the elements that not only are "classic Twilley" but also those which locate him as a pop classicist: lead vocals with just the right mix of leather-jacketed bark and sensitive-guy croon (the Presley equation), plus harmony vocals given nothing less than the vintage John/Paul/George treatment; biting electric guitars on the rockers contrasting with lush layers of 12- and six-string acoustics on the ballads; traditional verse-chorus-bridge arrangements given to complex key and tempo shifts; and enough slap-back echo drenching the material to make lawyers for Memphis' Sun Studios antsy.

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