’s latest album begins with a fuzzy bass riff and heavy drum beat, which is not really that different of an intro from their previous offerings’ opening tracks, especially 2009’s Music For Men
. But where that record tried to reconcile the band’s punk-rock beginnings and their more recent inclinations towards dance beats, Gossip’s fifth studio album A Joyful Noise
embraces their disco-funk fervor and turns pop inclinations into full-on infatuation. While there’s certainly cause to be upset about the shift (2003’s Movement
sounds vigorous in it’s searing rock voice, still gripping ten years in), it’s mitigated by the fact that the band has delivered eleven well-crafted, catchy but not throwaway pop songs, marred only by some really misguided production choices from Xenomania’s Brian Higgins.
First off, it’s imperative to note that this album is a collection of pop songs. And not the type of pop that you could have maybe claimed with earlier Gossip songs, where “pop” was merely one of the descriptive adjectives, but all out dance-floor crazed pop. But the difference that it makes so abundantly clear is that these songs are both fun and weighty, immensely singable and still clever. While lyrics may not be Beth Ditto’s finest suit this time around, the hooks are incredible. Songs like “Get A Job,” “Get Lost” and “Involved” lodge themselves in your brain so fully that they demonstrate how this band has a clearer sense of good pop than the likes of Madonna and Britney Spears in 2012. These are big melodies, with a big personality that drives them so far home that it’s near impossible to walk away from A Joyful Noise
without humming one of the eleven songs’ choruses.
Gossip thankfully kept Noise
to a lean eleven tracks, which was a wise move considering that hook-laden pop that continues over an hour becomes bloated and loses its edge. Surprisingly, there really aren’t any filler tracks here, either. The album opens with a strong four-song run, before heading into “Casualties of War,” which is more downtempo but still captivating. They build into the catharsis of “Get Lost,” which is then followed by the fantastic couplet of “Involved” and “Horns.” And then Noise
ends on a huge high-note with the wickedly fun “Love In A Foreign Place,” which could easily act as Beth Ditto’s feminist anthem. It teases a slow finish with synths that recall Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor
before exploding into a final chorus that delightfully wraps up the album.
On earlier recordings, Gossip maintained a real lo-fi, self-produced sound, merging that with somewhat higher fidelity on 2006’s Standing In The Way Of Control
. But it was Music For Men
, when the band brought in Rick Rubin to produce the album, that marked their shift to a tighter, more polished and all together more cohesive aesthetic. But where Rick Rubin succeeded in capturing Beth Ditto’s slightly unchecked dramatic flair and incredibly nuanced voice, ranging from gospel to soul, punk to pop, A Joyful Noise
’s producer Brian Higgins washes out the band with too much shine. There’s a consistency to the almost liquid sound to Noise
, but it too often drives Ditto to the back of the song, where she is the main reason why this work is so compelling.
No amount of 80’s inspired keyboards or any other contemporary pop tricks are going to rival Ditto’s mesmerizing presence, so it feels a bit counter-productive to employ the man who is responsible for hit singles from the likes of Girls Aloud and Kylie Minogue. “Casualties of War” has a delicious slink to it, verging on power ballad territory, but it just doesn’t calcify because of the layers and layers of reverb on Ditto’s voice. When Higgins pulls away those veils to reveal the fiery spectacle that is Beth Ditto, like on “Melody Emergency” and the choruses of heavy hitters “Perfect World” and “Love In A Foreign Place,” it’s stunning.
The key to this record will be its live incarnations, and if showcases at South By Southwest and such are any indication, A Joyful Noise
will be stripped of its cloying production when put on stage, and instead what will burn through is the dynamic that continues to propel the band forward. Beth Ditto’s undeniably enchanting stage presence and commanding vocal, Hannah Billie’s punk-inspired drumming and talented multi-instrumentalist Nathan Howdeshell’s charm all come together to form something truly special, and while many will object to their recent foray into the dance-pop world, Gossip remains a vital band that does in fact transcend category and break down conventions in their realm of music.