MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The British and Gomez won England's prestigious Mercury prize for their first album back in 1998. Now Gomez is back with another taste of their blues flavored pop music. Their fifth album is called How We Operate, and music critic Christian Bordal has the story.

(Soundbite of music)

GOMEZ: (Singing) The only guy I know, well I know. The guy I know is you, never noticed.

CHRISTIAN BORDAL reporting:

On their new record, How We Operate, the members of Gomez operate as they always have--more like a kind of musical cooperative than a regular band. Most pop and rock bands have one or two guys writing all the music. Usually, it's the lead singer. Or maybe they all jam together and the lead singer comes up with the melody and lyrics. Well, Gomez has three lead singers and five songwriters. One of them is Tom Grey.

Mr. TOM GRAY (Musician, Gomez): We're not a band of one guy and a bunch of fellows who stand around and making him look good. You know, there's five very creative people in this band, and that is our best asset and our worst enemy.

BORDAL: Band mate Ben Ottewell agrees.

Mr. BEN OTTEWELL (Musician, Gomez): Yeah, the problem is we'd start, I mean, we, with all the best intentions we'd start (unintelligible) records like, right, we've got to get twelve great songs, and, you know…

Unidentified Man: We'd write 50.

Mr. OTTEWELL: We'd write 50 and not focus the attention on, you know, just got a bit sloppy.

BORDAL: So after four self-produced albums, and perhaps with some nudging from their new label, ATO, the label started by Dave Matthews, Gomez decided to hire an outside producer for How We Operate. They picked Gil Norton, who's worked with bands like The Pixie's, Counting Crows, The Foo Fighters. By their own account, Norton, a straight-talking Liverpudlian was quick to whip the band into shape.

(Soundbite of song from album, How We Operate)

GOMEZ: (Singing) She's a wicked girl, worst in all the world, a mystery life in her. She spends the days in a violent rage, try as I might, I love her everytime…

BORDAL: Gomez is known for sophisticated arrangements of songs that are part bright Brit pop, part 60's psychedelic, a dash of loops and electronic sounds, and a healthy dose of American blues and roots. But in the last few years, the band has been accused of messing around too much, over-layering their songs with too many parts and too much studio gimmickry. Ben and Tom credit producer Gil Norton with reigning in their pension to over-indulge in what they call the bells and whistles. The new album is mellower, more acoustic, and much more focused on delivering clean, comprehensible, radio-friendly, grown-up pop songs.

(Soundbite of song from album, How We Operate)

GOMEZ: (Singing) The girl-shaped love started messing with your minds. Don't ask me why. The girl-shaped love started messing with my mind.

BORDAL: One of the songs that first got my attention on the new album was the title track, which starts off with an intriguing little ukuleleian, banjo groove. Ben Ottewell.

Mr. OTTEWELL: Basically, it came together because my wife bought me a banjo, and I was just messing around with that and kind of came to that little lick. And, I mean, I was envisioned it as kind of a more open song, but then Ian came along his ukulele, and so I go (singing) din, din, din…

Mr. IAN BALL (Musician, Gomez): I just decided to take all of the swing out of the song with the ukulele.

(Soundbite of song, “How We Operate”)

GOMEZ: (Singing) Calm down, get straight. It's in our eyes, look how we operate.

BORDAL: Ben says the original chorus he'd written for the song didn't fit with the new straighter feel created by the ukulele part.

Mr. OTTEWELL: It almost didn't make it, because we were stuck with this kind of tremendous verse, you know, and no chorus, you know, nothing to pin it on.

Mr. BALL: Also, the thing had about six different choruses.

Mr. OTTEWELL: Yeah. We were laboring over it, and we came out with all these different things, nothing really stuck, you know. So we went out and got drunk, and then the next day arrived in the studio and picked up the guitar, and there was the chorus, basically.

(Soundbite of song, “How We Operate”)

GOMEZ: (Singing) Some (unintelligible) I'm upside down.

BRAND: That's the band, Gomez. The new CD is called How We Operate, and our review was by music critic, Christian Bordal. He joined us from public radio station KTRW in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of song, “How We Operate”)

GOMEZ: (Singing) (unintelligible) And I try to keep it going.

BRAND: You can hear more music by Gomez at our Web site, npr.org. And there's more to come on this program, DAY TO DAY, from NPR News.

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