Advertisement

Gossip review, Real Power: Beth Ditto’s band are back with a bang but time has blunted the edges

Beth Ditto, Hannah Blilie and Nathan Howdeshell return with ‘Real Power’  (Cody Critcheloe)
Beth Ditto, Hannah Blilie and Nathan Howdeshell return with ‘Real Power’ (Cody Critcheloe)

Gossip’s new album is a resurrection. After 12 years in the dirt, Beth Ditto, Hannah Blilie and Nathan Howdeshell are dusting the cobwebs off the disco ball to deliver their first album as a band since 2012’s A Joyful Noise. It’s a well-timed return, sprung on us amid an indie sleaze revival, the same music scene Gossip (née The Gossip) turned inside-out with their seminal record Standing in the Way of Control back in 2006.

That album introduced Gossip as a band you could sink your teeth into: a delicious, unexpected seven-layer dip of soul, gospel, punk, electropop, disco, indie rock, and funk. It also introduced frontwoman Beth Ditto to the world: a shock of raven black hair, with a performer’s instinct and core-rattling vocals that could swaddle you or kick you in the teeth. In the albums that followed, Gossip dove deeper into glimmering pop expanses – that original punkish snarl showing up on a more ad hoc basis.

Real Power continues their odyssey into pop’s most danceable corners, shepherded by Midas-touch producer Rick Rubin – with whom they made 2009’s Music for Men. A bona fide belter, sleeker than their previous outings, Music for Men was their first record after signing with a major label and represented the band’s first legitimate bid for hometown glory – because while Ditto was gracing magazine covers in the UK, Gossip remained something of a cult act in the US.

Similarly slick, Real Power bursts into classic Gossip territory with album opener “Act of God”. A patchwork party anthem with a Motown splash, the song grooves to a Seventies bassline. Similar oomph can be found on the title track. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Ditto asks “do you feel what I feel?” over Howdeshell’s funky guitars and arpeggiating synths. It’s a siren-like clarion call proving that Ditto’s still got the goods.

The band’s calling card was and always will be Ditto’s voice, which is as capable of smooth soul crooning as it is delivering riot grrrl directives. She’s equal parts Joan Jett and Adele, with an inimitable wail all her own.

Beyond these introductory tracks and a couple of others (“Give It Up for Love” struts to a Nile Rogers beat), the album chugs along at a pleasant mid-tempo pace. “Crazy Again” indulges the pleasure of love as Ditto telescopes from surrender to resistance. “‘Cause you know what I’m like/ And I might go crazy/ Crazy over you,” she intones, squeezing her voice into a cherubic falsetto squeak.

Here the provocations, too, are gentler. “What you do in your own time/ Has nothing to do with me,” she twangs on “Peace and Quiet”, a softly finger-snapping, bongo-inflected reflection on the breakdown of her marriage. Elsewhere, they’re less effective. You might hope for something punchier than the slightly nondescript sloganeering offered on the folky “Light It Up”: “Start a fire/ Let it rage/ Burn it down.”

The ecstatic thrash of Gossip’s early years does appear on the album – but perhaps, for day one fans at least, not frequently enough. Time, it seems, has blunted the band’s sweaty dancefloor edges. Or to take a different view, perhaps time has opened up new and exciting channels for their expression. Maybe that’s Gossip’s real power: evolving past expectations.