There is nothing more difficult for a band than making a follow-up to a
tremendously successful debut album. Great debuts are usually fueled by a
lifetime of experience and recorded with a maximum of enthusiasm and a
minimum of interruption. The pressure to repeat the magic under public
scrutiny can destroy even the most promising artist.
On Liquid Skin, Gomez pass the sophomore test with flying colors,
though fans had plenty of reasons to be anxious. After all, Gomez emerged
from nowhere only last year with a debut that sounded like that of a group
of well-traveled American Southerners, rather than one from five Northern
Englishmen barely out of their teens. With critical reactions proving
appropriately euphoric, Gomez went platinum in their homeland and won
accolades around the globe.
Returning to the studio before the dust could settle, Gomez have clearly
worked hard to maintain momentum. Indeed, the only real criticism to be made
of Liquid Skin is that it occasionally sounds a little forced.
Singing vocals through toilet rolls and using
electric guitars as drum microphones are hints at the intensity with which
the band has attempted to vary its sound while staying true to its organic
But at their simplest, Gomez continue to come across like the wisest of old
men. The musically restrained "Revolutionary Kind" (RealAudio excerpt) is a thinly veiled attack
on dance music. And on "We Haven't Turned Around" (RealAudio excerpt), Ben Ottewell sings as
sweetly as Neil Young did during his Harvest Moon phase, before the
chorus opens up into the yearning lament: "So you want to spin the world
around." The music appears to do exactly that.
More complex is the single "Bring It On," with electric guitar that sounds
like a synthesizer, a drum machine that pounds eerily and the trio of
talented singers (Ottewell, Ian Ball and Tom Gray) each taking on different
lines of the verse. "Fill My Cup" features a fuzzy bass that eventually
gives way to acoustic piano and guitar arpeggios routed through separate
speakers before those dreamy vocals take control. The magnificent finale,
"Devil Will Ride" (RealAudio excerpt), makes use of the currently hip vocoder, but its string
arrangements refer back to psychedelic-period Beatles.
A more dense album than its predecessor, Liquid Skin may prove too
complex for mainstream American tastes. But as proof that Gomez' debut was
no flash in the pan, and as evidence that young groups can follow up early
successes if allowed to do so quickly and confidently, Liquid Skin is
nothing short of a triumph.