Portland -- by way of Arkansas and Olympia, Washington-- three piece The Gossip have had intriguing existence -- thanks to their outspoken lead singer Beth Ditto. Ditto, who refers to herself as a "fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas" and constantly pushes the envelope of aesthetic appeal -- particularly in these times of dolled up, super-thin female figureheads (just look at her on the cover of British publication Love). The band's 2006 album Standing in the Way of Control finally landed them on indie rock radars, well deserved after the band's previous seven years of quality work. Now, Ditto and company have landed on Columbia Records, working with one of the best living music producers: Rick Rubin. His tutelage has given The Gossip's new album, Music for Men, that luster and polish that only he's capable of. The album is a tight, cohesive offering that prominently displays Ditto's trademark vocals with the band's funky indie rock.
My first taste of Music for Men came by way of the brilliantly catchy lead single "Heavy Cross," showing me that the band was primed for a more rock-centric album, as opposed to Standing in the Way of Control's funkier indie rock rhythms. Music for Men is the band's major label debut, so those fears of their sound becoming watered down for mainstream appeal are certainly justified. Beth Ditto's vocals, however, are delightfully distant from anything in today's indie rock scene. Her stacatto-yet-soulful vocals are the band's trademark, and they are on prominent display throughout Music for Men.
The album is made with the stretch of tracks "Love Long Distance," "Pop Goes The World," "Vertical Rhythm" and "For Keeps" (omitting "Men In Love" because it is the cheesiest of the bunch although it is in the middle of the stretch of songs.) "Love Long Distance" has lodged itself in my head, thanks in part to Ditto's catchy lyrics ("Love long distance / Is testing me, trying my patience") and the gleeful introduction of synthesizers/keys on the album. The song marks where The Gossip depart from Standing in the Way of Control and usher in their new sound on Music for Men. That sound, that torch is carried on by the next track "Pop Goes the World," a lighter song with a devastatingly catchy bridge and funky synths.
The brooding guitars of "Vertical Rhythm" give it a serious tone that ultimately gives way to the rollicking chorus, complete with thundering drums and heavier chords that show how polished Rick Rubin has made this album (I also love it when Ditto sings "I ain't no better man / But I know not to complain." Gender roles can totally kiss her ass, and I just adore it.) The stretch of songs is wrapped up by "For Keeps," a song containing the album's best use of synths -- acting as that perfect offset for Ditto's soulful vocals and Hannah Billie's inspired drums.
Music for Men hardly slows down to show the softer side of the band's sound, and that is something that keeps the album incredibly tight -- sure, there are a few toned down songs, but they still have a dark force and serious nature. The songs all feed off of one another in a harmony that I haven't heard on an indie rock album in a long, long time. It's incredibly hard to compete with Beth Ditto's pipes in today's music, and that level of unattainability is what makes The Gossip such a unique force.