Record Review 

It's a happy return for Gomez, the British quintet that wowed everyone with its Mercury Prize-winning 1998 debut, Bring It On. The eclectic, adventurous use of blues tropes stood out against the shiny Who and Beatles-spawned Britpop of the time. But on each successive album, the hippy vibe of the band's psychedelic blues shuffle crowded out more of its other influences, culminating in 2002's tedious In Our Gun, whose adherence to increasingly laconic, stoner grooves, dovetailed with electronic experimentation, yielded the equivalent of a trip-hopping Phish, hardly anyone's idea of a good time.

Enter Tchad Blake (usually producer Mitchell Froom's engineer), who helps tighten the screws and produce the best and most rocking album since Gomez's debut. While there isn't anything here as immediately winning as the group's early singles ("Whippin' Piccadilly," "Get Myself Arrested"), Split The Difference is a top-to-bottom listen without soft spots.

Everything is pulled from Gomez's bag of tricks -- from bubbling, upbeat folk-blues shuffles ("These 3 Sins," "Catch Me Up") to buzzing, fuzzed-out psychedelica ("Silence") to rich, loping blues ballads ("Sweet Virginia," "Meet Me in the City") and loose-limbed, double-jointed rock ("Chicken Out," "Where Ya Going?"). The band's secret weapon remains Ben Ottewell, whose Joe Cocker-gruff vocals make his tracks highlights of the album, as on the lurching, hip-swinging bluesy opener, "Do One," and the floating, folky pastoral lament "Me, You and Everybody." It's a real reminder of what's been missing. Gomez plays the Roxy Sun., Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m. $20.


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