We Haven’t Turned Around: Gomez’s Liquid Skin At 20

In 1999, the UK indie rockers released their sophomore set and the music flows naturally

Gomez Liquid Skin, Hut 1999

Gomez never seemed to make any deliberate play for stardom, but they achieved their due recognition regardless.

Decidedly indie in their intents, the band had the advantage of boasting three singers and four songwriters, assuring a diverse and inventive sound capable of catching the critics’ ears. That was evidenced in the fact that the group’s debut album, the aptly dubbed Bring It On, was accorded the Mercury Prize in 1998 and elevated their awareness in the process. 

 

VIDEO: Gomez win The Mercury Prize, 1998

Sensing success, the band released its sophomore set Liquid Skin less than a year and a half after their initial outing. Somewhat obtuse in terms of its meandering melodies and eerie arrangements (“Come into my dream world,” they urge on “Blue Moon Rising,” one of several songs that spotlight their psychedelic sensibilities), they created an alluring pastiche that furthered their still burgeoning reputation as one of Britain’s most eccentric ensembles, as well as one of its most alluring. Given the advantage of a professional recording facility, as opposed to the ramshackle operation they worked with the first time out, they took full advantage of the array of sophisticated equipment placed at their disposal. It encouraged the musicians to produce the album themselves, a risk that paid off handsomely when the album went platinum and topped the charts at home and abroad. One of its tracks, the tellingly titled “We Haven’t Turned Around” was even chosen for inclusion on the soundtrack for the film American Beauty.

That said, several of the songs seem to simply drift along, catching the listener’s ear almost by chance and enticing them to come along. In that regard, “Hangover” appears to live up to its title while “Bring It On” clearly encourages the observer to share in an otherwise subdued sojourn. Indeed, it’s an album that takes repeated hearings to fully appreciate, and even then, the elusive nature found in this occasionally awkward set of songs kept any familiarity factor slightly out of reach. The fact that they were living communally and relentlessly touring might have been reason for that insular attitude, but clearly there was a mischievous attitude undermining it all. The original working title of the record was Devil Will Ride, the title of the final song of the set, prior to being temporarily changed to God’s Big Spaceship.

The insides of Universal’s deluxe edition of Liquid Skin released earlier this year

According to the liner notes that accompany the expanded reissue of the album, many of the songs simply evolved out of the sessions that produced their debut. That may account for the casual, easy going saunter that permeates the album overall. Regardless, having the advantage of a fully functional, multi-track recording studio encouraged them to expand their musical palette and add to their sonic stockpile. That’s evident on the otherwise obtuse “California,” the orchestral arrangement given the aforementioned “We Haven’t Turned Around Yet” and the brass embellishment given “Devil Will Ride.” The reissue’s wealth of bonus tracks and unreleased add-ons provide some illumination as far as the creative process was concerned, but the inclusion of a concert recorded at the Fillmore in San Francisco two years later fully fleshes out the sound and adds additional emphasis. Now, 20 years on, a second sip of Liquid Skin is well worth the additional indulgence.

 

AUDIO: Gomez Liquid Skin (full album)

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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