Ben Ottewell – ‘Shapes and Shadows’
Few bands reach the pinnacle of notoriety with their debut album. Uniquely, Gomez, Britpop’s scruffy-toned troubadours, did just that by claiming the heralded Mercury Prize in 1998 for their release, Bring It On. The ensuing years have brought moderate success for the lads as they’ve kept busy recording six more studio albums of their endearing ramshackle blues, released a live album that suitably captures their infectious stage interplay, and answered the call as summer outdoor festival favorites across the U.S. and Europe. For a band that features three uniquely talented songwriters, it’s no surprise that the members would find themselves stepping out for a diversion or two in the form of a solo record.
And so it is that we find Ben Ottewell following the lead of bandmate Ian Ball’s 2007 sojourn with the release of Shapes and Shadows, a charming and impressionistic assemblage of tunes that don’t reinvent the Gomez sound, but serve as a nice addendum to their sturdy catalog. Ottewell’s rough-hewn, sandpapery voice is Gomez’s calling card, always adding a stark element to the band’s often sunny oeuvre.
Without the other members to even things out, the album meanders and stretches a bit, particularly when Ottewell incorporates saccharine string arrangements to the already morose tracks “All Brand New” and “Chose”. Ottewell works best in less adorned arrangements, such as the lonely, acoustic lamentations of “Chicago”, the pastoral shuffle of “No Obstacles”, and the plaintive urgency of “Step Right Back”. There is nothing on the album that announces Ottewell as a threat to step away from Gomez and embark on a solo gig. Neither are there bold enough statements to attract a new legion of admirers. There is, however, enough to satisfy a loyal fanbase anxiously awaiting the band’s next step, and Ottewell, hopefully intended for Shapes and Shadows to serve just that purpose.