You know that commercial for the really skinny television? The one that fades out with Gomez's cover of the Beatles' "Getting Better"? Did you know those guys were only 11 years old?
No. But really, it's pretty bloody amazing. They're not terribly old, neither individually nor as a band, but Gomez has been the subject of some very heated debates about the state of British prog-rock, amid a flurry of awards and brickbats in fairly even number, over the past year. So if you thought their first two albums, Bring It On and Liquid Skin, were too meandering and Pearl Jam-ish to take seriously, you probably won't be converted by Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline, which is an odds 'n' sods collection of unreleased songs, radio performances, remixes and the like, spanning the four years they've been recording. But if you're still unsure, or have yet to be introduced to the band outside those six seconds of "Getting Better," Abandoned isn't a bad ride at all.
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Sure, it meanders, sure, some of these songs run a few minutes longer than they should, and sure, Ben Ottewell (one of Gomez's three lead singers) occasionally sounds so much like Eddie Vedder, down to phrasing and inflection, that you catch yourself thinking, "My God, he sounds exactly like Eddie Vedder." But those moments are relatively few, and the rest of the record is inventive enough to forgive them. If "Rosemary," a BBC Live session performance, sounds a touch overproduced and self-important, it's more than balanced by the joyfully goofy demo "Hit on the Head" and the garage-taped "Buena Vista," both of which point up Gomez's strong suit: fast and loose performances of creatively arranged songs, with a prominent DIY spirit when they can resist the desire to tart up the arrangements or wobble off into prog-rock string dithering. But again, those latter moments aren't particularly frequent; even their faithful cover of "Getting Better," which certainly would have provided opportunities for postproduction overindulgence, is mostly a straight-up vocals-and-instruments affair.
A limited-edition U.S. run of Abandoned comes packaged with the EP Machismo, previously available to us Yanks as an import item only. Machismo, a five-song recording from early 2000, is heavier on the swoopy hard-rock balladeering and production noodling than Abandoned, but equally well-written and performed. Abandoned, in whatever form you happen to pick it up, is an eclectic introduction to a talented group of musicians; and despite their age or the occasional strings overdub, that's exactly what Gomez is composed of. Regardless of whether they're getting better all the time, their best moments here are well worth seeking out.