This is your wake-up call. The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes – an appropriate perspective given Beth Ditto’s penchant for rolling around naked in front of the camera. Some will no doubt swear blind that St Beth is unremittingly wonderful, flying the flag for queer sensibility and challenging body stereotypes. Well, look at the flipside. Isn’t it desperately sad that Gossip, as a band, is represented in popular consciousness by Beth Ditto’s naked body and not, say, by their music? Ditto is as relentlessly self-promoting and as much indebted to the consumer society’s addiction to the manufactured image as Britney Spears. However, to put it bluntly, we are supposed to believe that she is subverting that culture simply by virtue of being overweight. You can make up your own mind about that one, but, as The Times candidly pointed out, the person who goes from slagging off Kate Moss to being best buds in the space of a heartbeat is surely following the profit rather than principles.
The music, of course, is what we are really here to talk about. The media machine would probably like us to forget that Gossip are, in fact, a band. But we shan’t. You could be quite cruel and say, of Music For Men, that ‘Standing In The Way of Control’ is followed by ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’, with ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ coming next. That’s a step too far, but it is perhaps worth noting that the temptation is there. It definitely feels pointless to analyse tracks on an individual basis, since they all sound the same. Gossip suffer from a lack of light and shade. The formula is: pacey drums, heavy bass, then Ditto launching over the top with that patented ‘fierce’ wail. It’s always felt slightly too close to the much-missed Sleater-Kinney, and it never reaches the raw depths of self-loathing that Corin Tucker brought to the table. This is probably because, lyrically, Ditto is always giving someone a telling off – always – and it quickly becomes wearisome.
Perhaps a more apt comparison is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with whom Gossip share the double-edged benefit of an ultra-charismatic lead singer. Much like Gossip, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been frequently accused of being more about image; however, this year’s It’s Blitz laid all that firmly to rest with the tender vulnerability displayed by Karen O on tracks such as ‘Hysteric’ and ‘Little Shadow’ showing that the band really could mix up their punk-lite aesthetic with disarmingly good results. Music For Men doesn’t achieve the same thing for Gossip because of its unrelenting sameness, which tends to eliminate whatever good moments there are. ’8th Wonder’ puts head and shoulders above the dross for an all too brief gasp, as does current single ‘Heavy Cross’, but because every song trades on the same tricks, they sound unremarkable in the long run.
Because of this, the sentiment of closer ‘Spare Me From The Mold’ is more than a little embarrassing. Gossip are stuck in the mould, so to speak, churning out the album that everyone expected. No surprises, no delight, no joy. Definitely nothing of the order of ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’, which, it has to be conceded, was spine-tingling for the briefest of moments before it got so desperately over-played. Perhaps the best thing that could happen to the band is for them to crash and burn with Music For Men, thus forcing a rethink. It won’t happen this time around, though. There’s plenty of appetite for more of the same, sadly, but it’s easy to see whatever album that follows in the future falling on deaf ears. Familiarity breeds contempt and Music For Men sees Gossip with their buttocks firmly entrenched in laurels.
UK release date: 22/06/09; www.myspace.com/gossipband