Much has been made of Beth Ditto’s synth-pop turn on her debut solo release, but it’s not entirely surprising. Gossip’s Music For Men, particularly the single ‘Heavy Cross’, was just a few coats of varnish away from this supposedly new sound, and Ditto already has form for working with producers Simian Mobile Disco, having guested on the slinky ‘Cruel Intentions’ from 2009′s Temporary Pleasure.
James Ford and Jas Shaw repeat that formula here, turning Ditto’s voice to liquid glass and pouring it over glacier-slick synths. On ‘Open Heart Surgery’, she soars over a craggy backing track that sustains tension even when the medical metaphor falters. The ‘90s pastiche of ‘I Wrote The Book’ would be snapped up in seconds if transported back in time, as would longer tracks ‘Goodnight Good Morning’ and ‘Do You Need Someone’, which whip themselves into luxurious froths.
What’s absent is tonal variation – a full album of this would peter out quickly – and the true surprise: personality. Gossip was better than it had any right to be because Ditto thrust it into distinctiveness. Here, she could be anyone. Playing the faceless dance diva might free her from her niche, but she’s the one who carved it for herself.
[Deconstruction; January 10, 2011]