Given the band’s original riot-grrl associations, its connection with the queer community, the political bent of its biggest single, “Standing In The Way Of Control,” and frontwoman Beth Ditto’s outspoken reputation, it’s tempting to assign Gossip more depth than it really demands. A dance-punk act that’s always put more emphasis on the “dance” side of the equation, Gossip has been moving steadily in the direction of European discos over the course of its last two albums, with Ditto’s bluesy howl becoming more likely to accompany synths and 808s rather than Brace Paine’s guitar or Hannah Blilie’s drums. Though Rick Rubin seemed like an inspired choice to marry the band’s competing hyphenates, 2009’s Music For Men was an overly glossed affair that flirted with outright anonymity. Bringing in British producer Brian Higgins, who’s produced for girl groups like Sugababes and Girls Aloud, for the new A Joyful Noise signals that Gossip has little interest in setting aside its dance-pop objective. (Or perhaps that’s just Ditto, who released a heavily disco-influenced solo EP in 2011.)
But while Gossip prove themselves capable practitioners of disco-fraught anthems like Noise’s “Move In The Right Direction” and “Get Lost”—Ditto in particular continues to inject more nuance into her bullhorn vocals with every record—the most compelling tracks on A Joyful Noise are the few that don’t entirely conform to the template. The loping, grimy bassline of standout opener “Melody Emergency” or the funk-soul brass of “Horns” are welcome sonic intrusions into Noise’s slightly homogenous sound, and the cinematic “Casualties Of War” proves the band still thrives at lower BPMs. But it’s all sugar in varying degrees of sweetness, and even when Ditto lashes out at trust-fund gadabouts on “Get A Job”—a toothless descendent of 2003’s “Lesson Learned”—it’s through a wink and a smile that ensures no one gets hurt while dancing.