GOMEZ

"Split the Difference"

Virgin

Writing songs in the style of the Beatles and the Stones entails the same essential dilemma as composing symphonies in the manner of Beethoven and Mozart: Supplanting or even rivaling your models is not a real possibility.

But the members of Gomez esteem '60s and '70s rock -- most of which was made before they were born -- and there's no reason they should have to play rap-metal or speed-garage if they don't want to. Besides, the British quintet's fourth album, "Split the Difference," makes retro-rock sound almost up to date.

Gomez's out-of-nowhere 1998 debut, "Bring It On," drew mostly on U.K. blues-rock, and so does the opening track on this disc, "Do One."

Singer-guitarist Ben Ottewell's voice is well suited to such material, whether originals or such covers as this album's version of Junior Kimbrough's "Meet Me in the City." Yet the set also includes a music-hall-rooted number, some countrified tunes, several sprightly pop-rockers -- notably "Silence" -- and such contemporary touches as synthesized beats and swooshes. This is the first Gomez album to enlist a co-producer, Tchad Blake, whose subtly eclectic style complements the band's tastes and range. "Split the Difference" may be a pastiche, but it's an assured and appealing one.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Wednesday at 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Gomez, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)