It’s been three years since Gossip’s Standing in the Way of Control, the dynamic disco-punk release that jettisoned the US threesome into the spotlight.
A long wait for fans, yes, but a whirlwind for the band — signing with Columbia Records, international gigs with Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Tour, a David Letterman TV appearance, a prime spot in the UK’s famed Glastonbury Festival. Front woman Beth Ditto has rocketed to superstardom in Europe, where paparazzi follow the lesbian’s every move (be it chumming with Kate Moss, rubbing elbows with Karl Lagerfeld, the launch of her clothing line or her nude cover spreads).
The band is poised for the first time as mainstream contenders.
Quite a leap for the Portland-based, Olympia-bred outfit which emerged late-’90s with fierce, barn-burning gospel-punk &mdsah; the perfect antidote to the media’s overhype of Olympia’s riot grrrl movement.
With industry heavyweight Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Public Enemy, Run DMC) at the production helm of Gossip’s major label debut, the pressure’s on for Ditto, Brace Paine (guitar, bass) and Hannah Blilie (drums).
Music for Men, which dropped digitally Jun 23 (on iTunes; look for the hard release Tue, Oct 6), picks up where Standing left off — under the mesmerizing light of a glitter ball. But something’s missing — Gossip’s charismatic coarse edges. Discordant melodies and sullied rhythmic swagger are largely superseded by disco dazzle; the blistering brawn of Ditto’s trademark searing voice is rarely flexed.
That said, the 12-track collection is sharp, slick and solid. The pace is sweaty and the sound is buoyant, bursting with electro sparkle and hip-shaking hedonism.
The title track is one of the strongest: a shimmering disco beat, crackling guitar riffs, an insistent cowbell and spaced-out Atari sound effects. “Shame, shame, shame,” belts Ditto (think Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”) before launching into the pleasure principle: dance, fuck, love. In particular, this one’s for the “men in love,” as Ditto slyly and delightfully tags, “with each other.”
“Heavy Cross” is another pulsing call to arms (“If it’s already been done, undo it”) that sparkles and shimmies with frenetic glory. Ditto is positively thunderous and Paine’s fretwork is multilayered and vehement.
“Love and Let Love,” on the other hand, is a catchy, coquettish kiss-off. The ode to splitsville opens with a husky-voiced Ditto sampling Salt ‘n’ Pepa (“Ah, push it”), quickly beckoning your best shoulder-roll as handclaps give way to vivacious revelry in an ’80s-era Madonna melody.
With its arrogant percussive beat and deliciously seedy bass line “Dimestore Diamond” is salacious and swampy — an excellent forum for Ditto’s muggy vocals.
Gossip slows things down just once with “Four Letter Word,” a glorious evocation of Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” — hands down, the album’s best track. The synth is wrenching and Ditto’s wails of lamentation are heartbreaking. The muscular beat throbs, save for those perfect pauses that intimate a kind of cardiac arrest. Sure, the lyrics are somewhat stale, but the track aces the art of melodrama: “Never gonna fall in love again/ I never wanna see your face again.” The desolation of heartache is soothed with lush rhythm and glimmering, carbonated beauty.
Check out the video for “Heavy Cross”: