Leave it to five British lads to remind us cheeky colonists that rock & roll doesn't have to be about the nookie. Like Radiohead, another highly ambitious five-piece, Gomez dabble with arresting textures, odd instrumentation (banjos, cellos and drum machines, oh, my!) and challenging song structures (albeit without Thom Yorke's wilting desperation). On their sophomore album, Liquid Skin, Gomez reach into a neopsychedelic grab bag for a dozen oddly affecting songs about shaking your booty on the telly and sharing some wine, as well as the wonder of hangover girls. From the spacey, reverbed "Revolutionary Kind" to the watery vocals on "Devil Will Ride," Gomez chart an odd little trajectory laced with clanking piano; pulsating guitars; and those big, beautiful hooks we Americans seem so scared of nowadays. Guitarist Ben Ottewell's raspy pipes sound like they came courtesy of a weary Mississippi blues man, not from a pasty, bespectacled Englishman. Evidently, there must be precious little to do in a retirement village in southern England except buy every single record known to man, absorb them all, and then jam with your childhood friends whilst drunk or stoned until something very, very beautiful comes out. Or until you pass out. Whatever. Liquid Skin is lovely and good, everything Creed is not. It's not often that I fondly look back upon my days of wild drug experimentation, but this quirky collection makes me wonder: Where the hell did I stash that copy of the Grateful Dead's Aoxomoxoa? I just know I left some rolling papers in the sleeve. . . . (Mark Smith)
In Spite of Ourselves
Oh Boy Records
With an uncanny knack for capturing life's smaller moments with honesty and compassion, John Prine is one of America's most charming and revered singer/songwriters. Following surgery and months of radiation treatment for throat cancer, the mending troubadour has released In Spite of Ourselves (his first studio album in nearly five years), a low-key yet winning collection of country classics and obscurities featuring Prine dueting with some mighty-fine womenfolk as they interpret tales of love and betrayal in its many colors. Prine and Iris DeMent simply shine on two numbers, the mandolin-flavored George and Tammy classic "(We're Not) The Jet Set" and the lone Prine original, "In Spite of Ourselves." A declaration that love conquers all, the hilarious title track finds DeMent rejoicing in her honey's endearing charms: "He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays/I caught him once sniffin' my undies/He ain't real sharp, but he gets things done." Other highlights include Connie Smith's majestic voice soaring through Don Everly's "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)"; the Webb Pierce-associated "Back Street Affair," in which Sam Bush's fiery fiddle playing and Patty Loveless' stiff vocals mesh surprisingly well; and Jack Clement's "I Know One," in which only the incomparable Emmylou Harris can sound both angelic and pitiful. Although several of the 16 tracks never quite click (particularly the lackluster "When Two Worlds Collide"), it's a treat to find Prine healthy enough to record again. Welcome back, Johnny. (John Roos)
Long Beach Dub All Stars
In case you haven't heard, about a year after Brad Nowell died, the rhythm section of Sublime (Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson) formed a group to play a benefit for Brad's then-infant son. They liked this new, much larger band so much that they started playing all over SoCal and then all over Europe, and they eventually entered a recording studio to lay an album down. That's the history; Right Back is the product. The band that came forth, the Long Beach Dub All Stars, is made up of a bunch of mean-looking toughs who play mellow reggae music. To make sure you know right away that this ain't no fourth Sublime album, they start Right Back with the house-shaking, trippy-guitar-effected "Righteous Dub," which features reggae legend Barrington Levy giving—what else?—much props to Jah on vocals. The lively jam "Rosarito" and the exploding "My Own Life" are the only tracks that really attempt to match the fluid punk-meets-everything-else power of Sublime. The rest of the album is really a dancehall rasta jam, with rock and hip-hop interludes led by the hypnotic tick-tick-smack of Gaugh's high hat and snare and Wilson's burly, bumping bass. These two really hold the album together—and I'm not just saying that because they're the famous ones. Their tight grooves sink your ass deep into the couch and let the light melodies roll all over you. Through five guest vocalists, simple rock-and-reggae guitar leads, DJ scratching and a woozy saxophone, they chug Right Back along in the name of sublime rhythms. (Michael Coyle)
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