When they seized the Mercury Music Prize with the barnstorming Bring It On in 1998, Gomez was like a stiff cup of coffee to help ease the nationwide Britpop hangover. With four songwriters and three singers constantly jostling for focus, the band's giddy tug of war with one another emphatically dispelled the old adage that too many cooks spoil the broth. Their fizzy cocktail of rock, pop, folk, blues, and electronica earned them the eternally vague "alternative" tag, and has been their enduring blueprint ever since. Now ferrying this formula into their seventh studio album, Whatever's on Your Mind, the five-strong troupe play fast and loose with the same elements that have served them so well across the last decade.
It's a testament to Gomez's collaborative songwriting that the formula has yet to sound stale, though the album rarely feels as fresh as Bring It On. If there's one thing in particular that conspires against Whatever's on Your Mind, it's the band's tendency to swamp their quirky sonic experiments with gushing orchestral compositions. Both "The Place and the People" and "Our Goodbye," ostensibly positioned as the album's epic centerpieces, are desperately morose ballads.
While these numbers both curdle within minutes, the title track—a similarly grandiose affair, lavish string arrangements and all—is salvaged by Ben Ottewell's dazzling vocal performance, where the visceral emotion in his gruff howl offsets the squeaky-clean strings wonderfully. But Gomez is a far more formidable act when they're dabbling in less opulent trappings, which is exactly why the album gets off to such a great start: "Options" is a punchy guitar frolic that raises the curtain with oodles of charm, followed by a similarly cheery exercise in avant-garde pop in "I Will Take You There." This opening salvo finds the group settling into a rhythm that's unmistakably their own and gathers momentum with a flurry of nuanced brass and organ parts.
With the microphone being tossed to and fro between the three singers, the band manages to shift between sounds frequently but still nestle into each mood comfortably. Ian Ball and Tom Gray offer the orthodox indie vocals, but it's Ottewell who steals the show. His mammoth wails garnish the love-struck and the lovesick songs alike, ceaselessly impressive whether he's crooning over a gentle acoustic melody or hollering atop a strident rock jaunt. Whatever's on Your Mind is more of what we've come to expect from the band, sashaying through a number of sounds and styles and, as ever, finishing it off with the distinctive Gomez veneer.