After spending the past half-decade strutting around the edges of the mainstream, Gossip makes its major-label debut with Music For Men, which buffs the band’s sound to an even higher sheen than 2006’s breakout Standing In The Way Of Control. Unfortunately, Gossip’s (and producer Rick Rubin’s) timing sucks: Music For Men approaches dance-punk quintessence long after the genre reached critical mass, and just as the low-fi sound that characterized the band’s first two albums has come back in vogue.
That’s not to say that Gossip has gotten complacent. The once-sloppy trio has tightened up considerably, thanks in large part to underrated drummer Hannah Blilie, who provides the driving backdrop to Beth Ditto’s vocal acrobatics. Ditto too sounds more polished than ever, though it sadly often comes at the expense of the spirited belly-fire that propelled Gossip’s earlier work. Her diva-fied vocals, combined with a preponderance of synths, often bring Music For Men dangerously close to dance-club generica.
Thankfully, traces of the band’s bluesy garage beginnings remain, mixing a little grit into the gloss. The pulsing, prowling sneer of “Dimestore Diamond” insinuates the disco-funk of speaker-blasting single “Heavy Cross,” which in turn shares its pop sensibility with dance-y earworms like “For Keeps” and “Pop Goes The World.” Sometimes the balance tips too far in one direction, as on the abrasively uninteresting “Spare Me From The Mold” or the club-baiting “Men In Love.” But any such growing pains are largely negated by Ditto’s singular voice, which continues to expertly guide Gossip’s ongoing dance-punk explorations.