“Music for Men” the fourth album (and major label debut) from disco-rock trio Gossip, is being hyped as the album that might garner the group a widespread following. But it’s hard to imagine portly frontwoman Beth Ditto and her bandmates — whom she recently described as coming from a punk scene of “striking vegan radicals” — as ever being part of the mainstream. And that’s not a bad thing.
For “Music for Men” which has an official release date of October 6 but was made available digitally and overseas earlier this year, Ditto, guitarist Brace Paine and drummer Hannah Blilie enlisted legendary producer Rick Rubin (incidentally, they’ve also dropped the “The” from their name). The polished result is a non-stop dance party, a delirious fusion of blues, punk and disco elements.
On much of the album, synthesizers and keyboards outnumber guitars. The band shamelessly draws from artists like Blondie and Donna Summer — and makes it work. Fans of (The) Gossip’s breakout album, 2006’s “Standing in the Way of Control” will salivate over first single “Heavy Cross” undeniably the album’s catchiest, strongest track, anchored by radiant palm-muted guitar work courtesy of Paine.
Charmingly, Ditto’s self-confidence matches her girth, and the sultry opening track, “Dimestore Diamond” contains a favorite metaphor of hers, painting a portrait of the titular heroine’s transformation from coal to diamond; she dons low-cut sweaters, short skirts and a “homemade haircut” but still “shines like the real thing.”
But Ditto also adopts a rarely-seen confessional tone on many songs, particularly on songs like “For Keeps” and “Love Long Distance.” It’s a bit disarming to hear Ditto, a native Arkansan who is perhaps most known as an outspoken champion of feminism and LGBT rights, sing lovesick lines like “I call your number twice, but it rang and rang / Against my best friend’s advice, I should be ashamed.”
Some might view the album’s tongue-in-cheek title and gender-bending artwork in the liner notes as a political statement on their own, but Ditto also scratches the surface of gender politics on the punkish “8th Wonder” referencing a time “before girls knew they weren’t pretty yet “¦ before boys knew they weren’t tough enough.”
The sassy singer also returns to her grassroots activist roots on the punchy “Pop Goes the World” promising, “We’ll start a demonstration / Or we’ll create a scene / Make noise from our frustration.” It’s a relief to know that Gossip haven’t lost sight of their politics in the pursuit of mass appeal.