Review Summary: Are you listening very carefully?
Beth Ditto made a dance-pop record. What with her high-pitched and able set of pipes, scrappy cool, and gay iconicity, this was an inevitability. The sheer panache of EP
, though, isn't something to be taken for granted - oh, no. The four songs on Ditto's debut solo effort are uniformly irresistible, their production (courtesy of Simian Mobile Disco) serving as a basic sonic constant. These beats thump proudly in all their analog glory while synth lines plink their way into your ears - only to remain there for days. It's telling that this record sounds best in its longer, floor-friendly iteration; the cuts on the wider release are more efficient and hook-centric, sure, but Ditto's earworms are most successful when they've a luxurious space to breathe in. Compared to its eight-minute incarnation, the single-ready version of "Goodnight, Good Morning" feels almost slight. Almost - because Ditto's vocal performance is at once both bracing and fragile enough to uncannily capture hazy late-night dubiety, and because the song's got a melody that Madonna circa "Like a Virgin" would kill
For its obvious melodic strengths, though, EP
is a tease, slowly removing one layer at a time until its heart is revealed - ice-cold but definitely beating. "Don't leave me hanging," Ditto intones, only to later instruct, "just take it slow." It's just one of the many coy come-ons found here, which would prove frustrating were it not for Ditto's effortless sultriness. It's initially strange that this disc finds Mary Beth Patterson in a soft-edged, seductive mode, given that her work with Gossip is more philosophically in line with riot grrrl, but artificiality proves an able vehicle for Ditto's fierce perspective. The methodology behind that worldview is conveniently summed up on the record's lone single: "I wrote the book on it, don't test me." Dogmatic" Sure, but endearingly so - and besides, Ditto's delivery is impressively convincing. She boldly challenges ("the run-around will wear you out / you'll break it off, I'll break you down") and detachedly advises ("the world is full of good intentions / paradise is full of lies") in equal measure, neatly embodying the yin and yang of hookups, relationships, whatever. That all this is done with razor-sharp, almost dead-eyed precision is all the more remarkable.
That's what's most interesting about Ditto's voice: in its feathery slightness, it displays just how short the distance is between confidence and uncertainty. "Do You Need Someone" is my favorite song here because of how easily it flits between the passive braggadocio of its verses and the frosty almost-compassion of its chorus. Listening to it, I'm never entirely sure if the "she" Ditto keeps referring to is herself, a rival, or some combination of the two; the resultant tension is utterly intoxicating. And what better setting for such emotional pussyfooting than the club, forever the smoky meeting point for lonely souls and hungry ones" Indeed, those aforementioned analog pops are the perfect soundtrack to that place "where the evening comes undone", where the promise of a lengthened evening always lingers, and where emptiness relentlessly threatens to be a bedfellow. Ditto is the enigmatic temptress standing at the door, and it's a crying shame that she's indicated that EP
is a one-off - the role suits her magnificently.