It seems to be two steps forward, three steps back with Portland, Oregon soul-punk pioneers the Gossip. Not musically you understand; they consistently make leaps and bounds in that area, but as a political entity. And they are one, albeit an incredibly catchy and danceable one.
Even if they don’t use soap boxes or slogans, by their very existence and excellence Beth Ditto, Brace Paine and Hannah Blilie are a positive force for change in a narrow-minded mainstream; a sharp slap across the face, waking the world up to questions about image, sexuality, gender and identity. There is no band as important right now.
Now in the process of penning an infectious floor-filler like Standing In The Way Of Control, they got everyone from girls about town to the Mail-reading man in the street to scream out loud about gay marriage – an awesome achievement. But liberals shouldn’t get lazy, because for every hint at progress, something happens to knock us back down to earth with a bump. And it’s clear there is still much to do.
Following the media’s initial gleeful celebration of pop’s first lady (and lesbian) of size, recent reviews have seen critics who should know better bleating on ad nauseum about Ditto’s weight and every time it is mentioned on messageboards Ditto provokes a stream of venomous misogyny. And then there’s the dubious acclaim from the fickle fashion lot, how long will it be before they get bored of playing with our Beth and ditch her for something shinier?
So 2009 is really make or break for The Gossip. Will they revert back to adored underground heroes or change the face of pop? Whatever happens, Music For Men ensures that the trio will not go quietly. Shimmying deep into electronics-tinged disco territory suits Ditto and co., and with Rick Rubin‘s sonic wizardry, the threesome have never sounded so sweet. And yet the raw ferocity remains. Ditto’s spellbinding voice is delicious here as it cosies up to Paine’s spikier than ever riff attacks, pounding basslines, pianos, strings, horns and synths; leaving us wondering why they haven’t gone all Hercules and Love Affair on us before.
Moreover, the highlights on the record are relentless; from bluesy opener Dimestore Diamond to the frenzied For Keeps, Pop Goes The World and Spare Me From The Mold, unashamed pop explosions like Men In Love to genuinely moving heartbreak anthems Four Letter Word and Love Long Distance, it is plain for all to see just how much musical talent and creative spirit abounds in this band. And while Music For Men was made to be heard by the masses, to make them listen, it loses none of the freaky, punk spirit and originality that has kept their devotees loyal. This is a truly astonishing effort; a crowdpleaser and a call to arms – now let’s go and change the world.