Five Men in a Hut collects the band's videos and some odd pieces, but doesn't satisfy.
Gomez aren't wildly innovative -- they'll never be mistaken for Frank Zappa or Sun Ra -- but their sound is intriguing nevertheless. Studio tweakery meets dusty blues meets folk meets just about anything else you can think of in the rock family tree. Unlike many bands, it's sometimes hard to pick out exactly what their influences might be, only that they've managed to successfully forge a singular style.
Gomez have released a lot of good music over the years, but that didn't stop them from landing at a new label, ATO, after about six years under Virgin's tent. This year's already seen an excellent musical overview of those early years, Five Men in a Hut (A's, B's, and Rarities 1998-2004). This DVD version of Five Men in a Hut is a companion to that solid, vault-clearing CD. As you'd expect, there aren't any videos for the b-sides or rarities; consequently, this DVD version feels less like a revelation.
For one thing, Gomez's videos typically aren't high-concept affairs. Here's Gomez playing in a vintage science/computer lab ("Get Myself Arrested"), here's the band busking on a sidewalk while a man tries to scale an escalator ("Whippin' Piccadilly"), here's scenes of the band intercut with scenes of a man floating upside-down through life ("78 Stone Wobble"), here's some footage of them in a Yellow Submarine-type animated landscape ("Silence"), etc. There are some nice touches here and there (the scientists measuring the band with calipers and other instruments in "Get Myself Arrested", the fake health & safety film vibe of "Bring it On"), but by and large, Gomez don't seem interested in blowing their budgets by building lavish sets or hiring Michael Gondry. These videos are truly just plainspoken mechanisms for getting the songs out there.
Granted, 12 songs is a full album's worth of quality Gomez, but by-and-large, the band's videos aren't the sort of thing you'll find yourself revisiting, other than to maybe put the DVD on in the absence of the CD, and let it play while you tend to some other task.
So you'd think the set would really bring things home with the extra material. Yet, the bonus footage feels a little tacked on. There are only two cuts from an undated performance at the Music Center in Dublin: "Make No Sound" and "78 Stone Wobble". Both tracks are strong, which makes the small number of cuts from this performance all the more frustrating.
A segment from the Liquid Skin Album Launch Showcase feels a little more fleshed-out, if only because it features a whopping four songs ("Hungover", "Rhythm & Blues Alibi", a slinky cover of Smokey Robinson's "The Way You Do the Things You Do", and the thankfully-not-lost rarity "Rosemary"). This segment goes for a lo-fi vibe, alternating between pro-shot and what looks to be crowd-shot footage, and the sound is a little on the fuzzy side. By and large, the set's fairly lowkey, and the presentation isn't all that exciting -- the second-generation feel of the footage mainly serves to add more distance between the viewer and what might have actually been a dynamic performance.
Much like the videos, both of the DVD's live segments could be played in the background and not given much visual attention. Although it's really the only official visual document of the band, Five Men in a Hut feels cobbled-together, and you have to think a more thorough effort will come somewhere down the line.