tudio albums are addressed to the home listener; live albums, unavoidably, are addressed instead to their original audience. That's why they so often sound curiously flat; even a mediocre band tends to sound better live, but if you're not actually there you'd never know. If you were at a particular concert, the live album is usually worthwhile as a memento of your experience, but it can't perform that same function for the rest of us; the crowd banter is tedious, moments that might have been transcendent fall flat without context, and if you're already a fan you're probably better served by popping in the album instead. The only live albums that are worth it for most of us are those where the playing is so ferocious that it becomes a virtue in and of itself (Television's The Blow Up), where the songs are sufficiently beefed up or changed that the album versions are no longer satisfying (Spiritualized's Royal Albert Hall), or even where the live album acts as a de facto “best of” collection (Portishead's Roseland NYC Live or Luna's Live).
Gomez, often and justly maligned for their first two albums, have managed an odd feat with the two disc Out West. The first disc actually suggests the band is capable of making a live album worth your time even if you didn't like Bring It On and Liquid Skin, but its welcome is worn out and its charms are fatally undercut by the turgid, unnecessary second disc.
After their mannered and almost self-parodic first two efforts, unsatisfyingly stretched between their Brit rock counterparts and the woeful millstone of American roots “authenticity,” Gomez managed to do something quite striking with 2002's In Our Gun: they made an album that no longer sounded like the kids aping the adults, that acknowledged the band's existence in the 21st century without trying to be either futuristic or a throwback. Since then they've been a fine band, maybe even a little underrated, and disc one of Out West continues the rehabilitation of Gomez in fine form.
The newer songs are punchier, catchier, and generally better; “Do One” and “Shot Shot” are definite highlights, but most importantly the band can bring out old songs that weren't great to begin with (“Hangover,” “Fill My Cup”) and roar through them with the right mix of gusto and verve to make them fly again. Gomez used to suffer from the odd twin peril of always being either too self-consciously reverential or too goofy, but here they just sound energetic and dexterous, even when they stretch “Revolutionary Kind” out to eleven minutes. From the reworked “Get Miles” that opens affairs to a none-more-glorious “We Haven't Turned Around” it all works and you briefly think Gomez can get away with anything (even, or maybe especially, a raucous cover of Tom Wait's “Going Out West”).
Even looking at the track listing of disc two serves to dampen enthusiasm, however. Stinkers like “Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone,” “Blue Moon Rising,” “Make No Sound,” and “Bring It On” litter the set, and the whole sequence is performed listlessly; even a shambling take on “Get Myself Arrested” is markedly inferior to the album version. There is one shining moment, actually the best song on either disc; a growling version of Nick Drake's “Black Eyed Dog” coupled with Gomez's own “Free To Run” that succeeds spectacularly. At best this half of Out West is pleasant, but you'd get more out of just listening to the first side again.
Gomez deserve better than their once-just reputation as boring student's music, and if they'd moved “Black Eyed Dog/Free To Run” onto the end of the first disc and called it a day Out West would do quite a bit to help. As it is, the album is a reminder that although they've become an admirable they still have a ways to go, and that once one falls into the rut of joyless rock shenanigans one must remain ever vigilant to guard against backsliding, even (or especially) when the crowd is cheering.