Review Summary: A rainbow-coloured fist to the face of detractors, haters and former lovers. The Gossip you've heard is all true.
Before we begin analysing the music of Gossip, on their fourth album (and their first for a major label) Music For Men
, we must get a few words out of the way. Lord knows how many reviews of this band and their work have been plagued with obsessions over these two words and their connection to Gossip, and you, dear reader, don’t need another one. So let’s get it out of the way first.
The words are “overweight” and “lesbian”.
All synonyms included.
Ever since vocalist Beth Ditto became paparazzi fresh meat around 2006 and the runaway success of the band’s last record, Standing in the Way of Control
, the image of the band has played a huge part in their exposure. Whilst there are certainly bold statements to come from a two-thirds lesbian band with an outspoken frontwoman in terms of image alone, hindsight should never be lost of the powerful, punk-inspired alternative rock that the collective creates. As if to prove this, the Gossip have returned with Music for Men
– their defining moment in their career thus far. A brash, uncompromising, powerful and downright exciting work of art, this is the Gossip at their most certain and assured in their songwriting abilities – making it all the better in the process.
At its core, the album picks up where Standing in the Way...
left off. Fans from previous albums won’t be disappointed with the continuation of soulful melodies leading a charge of guitar snarl, slinking bass and Hannah Billie’s driving drums and percussion that defined their work. Tracks such as the invigorating “8th Wonder” epitomise the Gossip fanfare we have grown accustomed to, sounding like vintage Aretha Franklin at her most inspired fronting Gang of Four. Opener “Dimestore Diamond”, too, is a husky blues stomp with a gritty walking bass and lyrical socioeconomic undertones.
It is the expansion and progression upon this sound, however, which is certain to attain new fans. With legendary producer Rick Rubin behind the desk, the trio have expanded their sound to blend in synth-infused and dance-oriented dance influences. The band have certainly embraced such influences before, but never to the fully-realised extent that is found on here. “Pop Goes The World” is a guaranteed hip-shaker, whilst “Love and Let Love” is the most heartbroken you can get on the dancefloor.
The embodiment of the progression’s successfulness, ultimately, is bundled into a three-and-a-half minute extravaganza known as lead single “Heavy Cross”. A frantic, energetic and powerful performance, the song thrives on Brace Paine’s layered, swaggering guitar mixed with groove-infested beats, handclaps and an eighties-flavoured synth undercurrent that remains consistent throughout. That’s not even mentioning Ditto’s sensational vocal performance – the call to arms of “If it’s already been done, undo it” and “It’s up to me and you to prove it” is sung with such conviction that you are more than willing to do anything she says.
To hell with it, the woman deserves her own paragraph. Ditto is evolving into an iconic figure in music; proving there’s far more to being “alternative” in the pop realm than your Pinks or Katy Perrys. Her wild, Otis Redding-esque howls and moans are occasionally watered-down on Music for Men, but this does not depreciate the value of the songs slightly – in fact, it allows Ditto to attempt more sultry, passionate vocals. She accomplishes this on lower-key numbers such as the sexy “Vertical Rhythm”, as well as the heartfelt balladry of “For Keeps” and the electronica slow jam of “Four Letter Word”. A near-faultless singer, Ditto has never sounded more confident and impassioned than on Music for Men.
Standing in the Way of Control
was the Gossip warming up. Music for Men
, now, is the main event. Beth, Brace and Hannah have created a career-defining work of art that spits on the norm and shifts the focus away from public imagery over to where the focus should have been in the beginning – the exceptional music. For men. For women. For all that are willing to listen.