Savy producer helps previously out-there hand draw inside the lines
For Gomez’s fifth and most coherent studio album, veteran producer Gil Norton had a handy template—not his celebrated recordings with the Pixies and Foo Fighters, but rather the several engaging LPs he made with Scottish roots-pop band Del Amitri, starting with 1989’s Waking Hours. Like that breakthrough, How We Operate presents crisply constructed, frequently hooky tunes as if they were cut from traditional fabric, carried along by earnest, gritty vocals (split among three strong singers in Gomez’s case) and acoustic guitars, with conventional rock instrumentation providing an unobtrusive foundation and bringing dynamism to the occasional explosive transitions. The treatments bring credibility to the unabashed sentiment of “See the World,” while the plunking of a solitary banjo plays against the lush arrangement of the title song and first single, lending it dramatic contrast and a hint of authenticity. Thus, through Norton’s expert ministrations, Gomez has been transformed from a likable but shambling outfit into a focused pop-rock group while retaining the iconoclastic character that made it intriguing to begin with.