A spirited return from Beth Ditto and company – but where are the new ideas?
How do you solve a problem like Beth Ditto? The Gossip frontwoman is a 16-stone, Valkryie-lunged force of nature, a natural born diva who can do brassy soulfulness like nobody else. Unfortunately, that’s all she can do – which gets to be an issue when you’re faced with an entire album worth of her Gloria Gaynor-goes-punk catterwauling. Some flavours of shtick hold up to repeated listening – but, with Ditto, it feels as if you’re watching someone pull the same rabbit out of different coloured hats.
It hardly helps that, with their 2006 gay marriage anthem ‘Standing In The Way of Control’, The Gossip effectively shot their musical bolt. Listening to their Rick Rubin-produced major label debut, it’s obvious they’re in little danger of scaling such heights again – and when they come close, it’s with songs, such as single ‘Heavy Cross’, that, down to the disco-funk background throb and lesbian empowerment wordplay, bear a frankly craven resemblance to their breakout moment.
To their credit, they do occasionally try to widen the palette. Rubin cajoles them towards ‘70s disco on ‘Long Distance Love’, which sees Ditto attempting to wrap her vocals into an understated croon (while she doesn’t really pull it off, it’s endearing to hear her playing against type).
Then there’s the funk-powered snap and crackle of ‘Dimestore Diamond’, wherein the New York trio attempt, however unconvincingly, to imagine themselves as a blaxploitation party band. More predictably, Rubin coaxes their gay activist personas to the surface on the Village People-meet–Strokes rumble of ‘Men In Love’ (though the politics are muddled: gay men fall in love with other gay men – and?).
Which brings us to another sticking: Ditto’s lyrics. Let’s be honest – if she hadn’t come out and said that ‘Standing In The Way of Control’ was about right-wing America’s opposition to gay marriage, who among us would have guessed? Here, her attempts at gay and lesbian agitprop verge on the kindergarten (‘Pop Goes The World’ offers the line: “We’ll capture their attention, we’ll make them aware of our intentions” – bested only by her rhyming of ‘across the Atlantic’ with ‘sick of your antics’ on ‘Love Long Distance’).
Music For Men has lots to recommend it. There are lashings of fist pumping hooks and enough cowbell to blister the eardrums. But if you haven’t heard it all before, it’s only because you probably weren’t paying attention in the first place.
Key Track: ‘Men In Love’