Gomez, Mean Fiddler, London

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The Independent Culture

Despite its many detractors, the Mercury Music Prize has yet to bestow eternal damnation on any of the artists who have received its windfall. Not only that, but no matter what the origin of said artists' muse may be, whether born-again chemical euphoria (Primal Scream), noir urban blues (Portishead) or do-it-yourself ghettoism (Dizzee Rascal), you can guarantee that the year's winning disc will be whirring contentedly in the background of North London dinner parties for many a season.

And so it - sort of - is with Gomez. The band who claimed 1998's glittering prize with their debut album, Bring It On, have actually released two (well, three-ish) albums since their cred- on-arrival debut, and they remain something of an anomaly in the Mercury firmament. While their Crosby, Stills and Nash stylings have furrowed authenticist brows at home, Gomez have succeeded in gaining greater favour in the United States. The Mean Fiddler was the band's one UK performance before they depart on an 18-date tour of the US.

On that gig's evidence, it's hard to see quite why they've been clasped so close to US hearts. There's none of that Kinks-ian quirkiness that a US audience has always had a particular taste for, and though the whiff of Abbey Road is never far away, it's just one smoke ring of the past among many. There's a politeness to the band that borders on the diffident. Even when approaching transcendency (and occasionally they did, particularly on "Revolutionary Kind"), Gomez seem to be just about to ask us all out on a date, before a shoe-scuffling withdrawal to catch the last bus home, ruminating on what might have been if they'd just had the nerve to get a little bit fresh.

Gomez host three main vocalists. Out of Ian Ball, Tom Gray and Ben Ottewell, it's the John-Martyn-in-a-T-shirt gruffness of Ottewell that is definitive to the band, and it's his lead vocals that provide the adhesive that make any of their songs stick. This is true on the more familiar whoop-'em-up crowd pleasers ("Get Myself Arrested", "Whippin' Piccadilly"), as well as the more embittered "Detroit Swing 66". But really, despite all the standard gumbo and electric swamp-blues reference points, its all a little bit, well, indie.

The new tune "Sweet Virginia" particularly summed up Gomez - a glum, stripped-down singer-in-the-spotlight affair that stopped just short of communicating. If Gomez were a dwarf (instead of the dashing head of the Addams household), they'd be Bashful. It's not as if they're short of ideas, even if the ideas were once somebody else's. Most songs reverberate with decorative psychedelic touches that would mystify a Gallagher or two.

And maybe that's why the US has taken kindly to a post-Mercury Gomez. Though we can accept dashes of retro in our fave rave US acts (Beck, The White Stripes, and so on), we're inclined to be suspicious of any of our own appropriating psychedelic authenticity. Perhaps Americans simply like to return the compliment.

At home, though, the distinct lack of risk-taking and bolt-from-the-blue epiphanic refrains means that Gomez may be forever exiled on indie street.

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