Not to act like I’m a soothsayer, but I bet Ditto, Paine, and Billy think their new songs roll pretty hard. After all, anyone ballsy enough to issue a record should, at the very least, believe in their own ingenuity – we practically expect that solipsism from our highest heroes. Gossip is a moderately-successful rock band that’s gotten off on being raucous on tour, what could possibly be standing in their way? We’d be asking much different questions on the other side of A Joyful Noise. Maybe it’s Columbia’s presence, or Xenomania– the star-making production team who made Girls Aloud famous– in the credits, but the soggy, sterile, ticky-tack limp of Gossip’s fifth album is a truly sad sight to behold. Like a band flailing for pop, energy, song-writing, anything, and coming up empty for 44 long minutes – settling for the cheesiest, by-the-dozen disco-glitz hooks a production budget can buy.
I’m not going to spend e-parchment explaining any hidden brilliance behind those earlier Gossip joints, but I hope we can all agree that you could never accuse them of being comatose. And despite her ramblings, and aimless, surface-level beefing, you could do a helluva lot worse with a role-model than Beth Ditto. Gossip could’ve been worthy stars, but if A Joyful Noise was their shot at hit-dealing immortality, it backfired in some stark, irreversible ways. Ditto and her bluesy, boozy sauce? She’s been cleaned up to a faceless, scepter-toting diva. The rhythm section jotting down sturdy, boilerplate grooves for her meaningless incarnations – the stuff soaks into the walls as soon as it leaves the speakers. “I’d like to stay and party but I have to go to work” again and again in front of a McDonalds dancefloor grind. “Get Lost” does watered-down rave so endless and cyclical it sounded like the CD was skipping. Ditto’s vocal performance is thoroughly insipid and uninspired – it takes a special level of ineptitude to turn one of indie-rock’s more endearing personalities into whitewashed, irrelevant trash, so a dubious hats-off to Xenomania. It’s a real shame, considering how Gossip would be the last band in the world you’d expect to start playing it safe.
It’s a boring album, it’s a depressing album, but it’s also a deeply cynical album. Gossip has nobody to blame but themselves for how A Joyful Noise turned out. They were a sweaty, crunchy-fun rock band with very little holding them back, now they’re a processed, focus-tested, identity-void grasp at crossover success – all too willing to sacrifice the things that made them worthwhile in the first place. There’s almost something cathartic of how badly it clunked at the charts, (5,000 copies in first week sales). It’s not that these Washingtonians don’t have any good art left in them; any hope of being a true household name has been squandered in a really ugly way. Let’s hope that gets Gossip back to being Gossip.