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Gossip - Standing in the Way of Control

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Artist: Gossip

Album: Standing in the Way of Control

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Review date: Feb. 19, 2006

It was inevitable that The Gossip would clean up their sound. Beth Ditto's voice – so throaty and assured – wouldn’t stay confined to garage punk forever. But their wailing soul over slap-back fuzz didn't feel played out. Their last full-length, Movement, didn't deviate from the formula, and had their strongest tracks yet. When they followed with a live record, there was a feeling that maybe the group had some doubt as to how to proceed. With Standing in the Way of Control, they've picked their poison: disco.

Questionable decision making, to say the least. Moving out of the garage and into the club is hardly unprecedented. In fact, one could argue there’s more adventures in hybrid than pure genre these days. And while Beth's gospel chops are an anomaly in the garage scene (honestly, they’re on their own, period), the pop charts are full of faux-Arethas. Couched in garage gunk, her singing could be paired with well-trod riffs and primitive beats and stand above the pack. Out in the open… well, it was a risk.

The production on Standing has been cleaned up, but the arrangements are still sparse. The songs share formal qualities with ’70s disco and the current dance-punk revival (beats are locked on the hi-hat, scratchy fills fit between guitar licks), but it doesn't sound completely derivative of Gang of Four. Beth’s still got soul. The recording was handled by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, who’s proving to be as effective as Steve Albini, and without the misanthropy. The production's raw, buy the lack of adornment creates an intimacy. Reverb ebbs and flows with each track while maintaining a natural feel, and Picciotto emphasizes the interaction of the musicians. These songs, regardless of genre, sound great.

For comparison’s sake, match Picciotto’s pieces up against Le Tigre’s 12” remix of the title track, which pours on the electronic hand-claps and glurping keyboards, obfuscating everything that makes the Gossip special. By covering up the nuances of Beth's vocals and Brace Paine’s guitar, the Gossip’s rudimentary songwriting is exposed. It's just busy. The Gossip's lyrics have never been concrete or enigmatic enough to stick with you; it's their chemistry and their adherence to genre that carry them. They are at their best under constraints.

It should be no surprise, then, that the album’s high point begins with classic Gossip. After flirting with new textures, "Eyes Open" shows up midway through Standing in the Way of Control. It's short, and continuously builds tension with a harsh John Lee Hooker riff before stopping suddenly and spilling into "Your Mangled Heart,” one of the finer examples of pure disco on the album. It’s almost as if the energy of old, once unleashed, carries over into the following songs. Next comes "Listen Up!," which maintains the tempo and flaunts their newfound funk with a flourish of cowbell.

The Gossip got noticed by pushing the blues through butch posturing and punk history. Now they can pass as a veritable disco troupe. But the group at it's best when it stays close to it's R & B foundation. Standing in the Way of Control expands the Gossip's pallette, but the keepers here hug tight to the rump.

By Ben Donnelly

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