The Gossip has become a moderately popular dance act with a runway model singer. However, the group defies expectations for that glamorous description. For example, that singer's status as a runway model would be extremely fucking surprising to straight men if they followed fashion closely enough to know anything about it.
Beth Ditto appears regularly in news items on Something Awful's spin-off sister site Jezebel, where she's roundly praised as a paragon of attractiveness and talent. For example, this photo reduced adult women to comments such as "she looks lovely," "hello gorgeous," and, lamentably, "Ohai Beth. You are SUPER cute. My lipgloss, you wants to taste it? OK! SMOOOOCHIES." However, a renegade poster rebutted: "I'm sorry, but she is not attractive at all. No eyebrows, overweight, sweaty-looking complexion, and just looks trashy in every photo wearing clothes that do not flatter. Everyone here saying she is soooo beautiful is either deluded or trying too hard to be liberal/politically correct."
I don't give a shit about Beth Ditto's appearance, especially given that every joke that could possibly be made has been volunteered by the self-roasting Ditto herself. However, I do object to her dreadfully boring band The Gossip, whose music occasionally rates a cursory positive mention in articles about her weight, sexuality and fashion sense.
The Gossip started writing my-first-song-caliber garage punk a decade ago. Ditto earned acclaim for her delivery, which sounds like the result of noisy, violent sex between the voices of Aretha Franklin and Jello Biafra. The group attracted gawkers due to its spastic live shows. Somehow, Ditto maintains her Rubenesque figure despite sweating gallons during her choreography-intensive concerts. She performs a physically demanding routine on a regular basis with no apparent reduction in girth. This is what basketball historians call the "Oliver Miller quandary."
When The Gossip concentrated on raw, bluesy material, they weren't good, but they fulfilled expectations. Fans just wanted to move around to short, energetic jolts while a sexually confident fat woman performed a striptease.
In 2006, The Gossip scored an overseas hit with "Standing in the Way of Control," a dancier-than-usual track that took off after being featured, in largely unrecognizable remixed form, in the publicity campaign for the U.K. show Skins. So, The Gossip became popular due to a single's affiliation with a teen soap. Ditto thinks she's Poly Styrene, but she's clearly more like Paula Cole, except Cole provides more hilarity with her beat-boxed Dolly Parton covers.
With Music for Men, released earlier this month, The Gossip spends an album attempting to recapture "Control," with the help of producer Rick Rubin, who proves himself uniquely unqualified to craft the dance album they sought. Rubin brought stark dignity to late-career efforts from Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. He also tinkered with System of a Down and latter-day Weezer, but those cases were too terminal for mixing-board surgery.
Rubin used his patented minimalist approach on this already skeletal band, selectively muzzling Ditto's vibrato and using guitars sparingly. After Rubin removed the "frills," these things remained: lounge-house beats, monotonous basslines, someone tapping drowsily on an unplugged keyboard, and Ditto's unflatteringly unadorned vocals. Music for Men is so blandly tedious that it's hard to work up sufficient anger at its shittiness. It makes me feel like a maul-minded bull tricked by a red flag soaked in chloform.
Music for Men isn't a total loss. The Gossip did a decent job with "8th Wonder," the only track that sounds like it came from an actual band and not low-batteried R&B robots. The Gossip also feel proud of the single "Heavy Cross," so much so that they recreate it a few tracks later under the name "Vertical Rhythm." Both songs use a similar "Edge of Seventeen" riff, and "Vertical Rhythm" even contains the line "you always sound the same," though this seems more oblivious coincidence than knowing nod to self-cannibalism.
Ditto also borrows liberally from her influences, referencing Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools," The Go-Go's "Our Lips are Sealed," and Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale." It's like sampling, except sampling would at least give listeners snippets of superior songs to enjoy.
Perhaps Ditto Frankensteins together lyrics because her own insights are of the "emotion is making me sad" variety. She uses "love" four times in song titles, and that's not including "Four Letter Word," during which she dusts off the "L-O-V-E" acronym device. I imagine no one has executed the sequence quite as clumsily as she does:
- L is for leaving
- O is for on time
- V is for the voices warning me I'll lose my mind
- E is for the ending, the unhappy ending of the four letter word
During the title track, Ditto sings the yearbook quote "Dance like nobody's looking." This expression puzzles me, because the only people who dance unwatched are professionals rehearsing, romantic-comedy characters who just met Mr. Right, and stupid hardcore kids windmill-kicking in front of their mirrors. None of these people are worth emulating, except the professional dancers, who are only dancing unwatched in anticipation of future spectators.
It's irrelevant in this case, because The Gossip have created an album that's mostly undanceable, regardless of the audience. Music for Men's real motto seems to be "record songs like you don't want anyone to listen."