The heyday of Beth Ditto and Gossip seems like a million years ago now – those heady days in 2006 when nu-rave apparently ruled the world and a ridiculously rambunctious Soulwax remix of Standing In The Way Of Control became synonymous with the Channel 4 show Skins. In truth, that song became a bit of an albatross, one that the band never really escaped the shadow of, despite some similarly excellent material later in their career.
Now that Gossip are seemingly no more, it’s time for the inevitable Ditto solo career, and if there’s one artist who’s always seemed destined to head out alone, it’s Beth Ditto. Her personality and impossibly powerful voice always marked her out as a cut above her contemporaries, and it’s no surprise that Fake Sugar won’t seem like too much of a departure from her Gossip days.
It’s slightly less frenetic than long-term fans may be accustomed to though. While her voice is as spine-tingling as ever, there’s more of a pop sensibility to her songs these days. It may not be as revolutionary as Gossip were – after all, 10 years ago, barely anyone mentioned intersectionality and feminism in music, while it’s easy to forget that their signature song was a protest song about equal marriage rights – but Fake Sugar does its job in providing a load of big, stomping, pop bangers.
Fire gets things started in a suitably smouldering way, a soulful, swaggering number that’s both slow-burning and, when the chorus kicks in, gloriously unrestrained. It’s the sort of thing that you can imagine Adele turning out if someone let off the leash a bit more, and sits easily alongside similarly disco-tinged pop workouts like Oo La La and Savioir Faire. It’s songs like this that let Ditto’s unmistakable vocals come to the fore, raising them to a level above standard pop fare.
Perhaps the highlight of Fake Sugar is Oh My God, boasting an enormous chorus which stays with you for days. It’s one of more than a few tracks that demonstrates a very ’80s sheen to its production. Sometimes this works, as on the mid-paced ballad Do You Want Me To, but at other times it becomes bombastic and bland. As good as Ditto sounds on We Can Run or closing track Clouds, the songs themselves are more filler than killer.
It’s that smoothing of Ditto’s edges that prevents Fake Sugar from moving from a good, perfectly serviceable pop album to something truly great. Although it would be impossible to recreate the force of nature that early Gossip tracks had, you do sometimes yearn for a bit of the old spark. Yet any songs that are graced with Ditto’s enormously soulful vocals are worth a listen, and for anyone suffering from withdrawal symptoms after the Gossip split, Fake Sugar should more than sate that need.