How We Operate, Gomez’ first studio release on Dave Matthews’ label ATO Records, sees the band move away from their psychedelic bluesy sound and create a polished power pop album. According to Tom Gray, they “wanted to focus on songs, melodies and words, rather than volume.” They might now sound too commercial for fans of the band that have been around since Bring It On, but they still maintain their artistic strengths of songwriting and musicianship.
The lyrics provide brief glimpses into the lives of characters who are unhappy, uncertain, or unaware about their relationships. Using three lead singers allows a wider range of personality for the narrators, which in turn allows for a wider range of story to be told. The band’s vocals continue to produce great harmonies together and the music hooks the listener.
The title track, the U.S single, finds a couple that is great when they come together, but they don’t see things the same way, which is, unfortunately, how they operate. The banjo sounds fantastic in the arrangement. “Girlshapedlovedrug”, the U.K. single, opens with a thumping bass line. The title is a great description of that addiction to someone. Even though “she’s a wicked girl. Worst in all the world”, the narrator can’t help himself. He knows he’s in to deep as he exclaims, “Try as I might I love her”, completely understandable to those who have had someone mess with mind and heart. Yet, he puts up with “her days in a violent rage” for the moments he gets to see her “soft and sentimental”. I give it extra points for using the word “taciturn”.
“Notice” has a quiet intimacy created by an acoustic guitar backed by strings and brushed drums. The song goes electric on the bridge for the remainder of the song, but the lyrics and vocals retain the mood as the narrator lies to his girl and himself about where he’s going. The lies continue on “Cry On Demand” as the narrator claims he didn’t know they “were so serious” when his accident happened in Vegas. He wishes he could cry, but he obviously doesn’t have the same feelings of the one he hurt. The music has Gomez’ trademark eccentricity.
“Hamona Beach” is a bouncy ditty that gets your whole body moving. It is amusingly juxtaposed with bleak lyrics of the narrator telling his friend he needs to get out of a bad relationship. He understands that his friend, like most people, would “rather be with than without”, but explains, “that’s just the fear talking”, which the narrator himself was previously fooled by. Another song that offers advice is “See The World”, suggesting it’s time to stop hurting and move on. It has a joyful, catchy chorus of “sha-la-la”.
On “Woman! Man!”, a man doesn’t know he’s out of a bad relationship. He wants his woman back, but she won’t take him. They fight and bother each other’s thoughts. The music builds and sounds like a triumphant march on the chorus, but the guy loses, ending up drunk on her doorstep and on his own floor, deluded by hope.
“Don’t Make Me Laugh” is a great choice to close out the album. A couple is splitting up as the guy is hitting the road. The song fades out with “So long, goodbye”, which serves a dual purpose between the characters in the song and between the band and the listener.