You learn so much
Now listen up
Now gather ’round
Now listen up
Gather round now
I knew what the Gossip would sound like as soon as I saw that their LP Standing In The Way Of Control was joint best LP of 2005 on the Rough Trade website. Based out of Portland, Oregon there was one guy, one skinny tattooed lady and a large lady front and centre; easy, angry sub-riot girl shouty indie/punk. I didn’t bother buying it, I had enough of that already and I wanted something more melodic. Fool. It was ages later that a friend put ‘Listen Up!’ on a mix for me and I just flipped out over it … fool.
‘Listen Up!’ is worth flipping out over, from the opening bassline onwards** the music is a taut, lean, precise contraption far more based in disco than the shouty indie I feared it was, BUT* best of all is Beth Ditto’s voice. Her voice is a thing of magnificent power and subtlety, I was shocked when I first heard it as it combines all the best bits of almost every great female singer I can think of, you can pick all the Joplin, Franklin, Turner, disco diva comparisons you could possibly want to, but more than that it has a unique tone to it too. On ‘Listen Up!’ I was bewitched with the sheer sass and menace of it all, the whole song is a relentless circular pursuit of some back-biting, two-timing, mean-spirited gossip. The counting in the chorus gives the whole something of an old school R&B/Motown aspect, which just pushes the whole thing even further towards perfection in my view.
Phew! Where was I before I came over all unnecessary? ah yes, Standing In the Way Of Control was the Gossip’s third LP, the first with new drummer Hannah Billie (who is an amazingly precise player) and the first with some good clear production courtesy of Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. It should be no surprise that the first thing that strikes me when I hear opener ‘Fire With Fire’ is that it sounds Fugazi gone disco, Beth’s angry vocal staying just the right side of soulful to give the song even more righteous torque – Fugazi’s whole ‘restrained is more powerful’ ethos coming through in the leanness and precision of the whole LP.
Brace Paine’s guitar/bass/whatever playing is just stunning throughout, especially when you consider all the music is basically just him and Billie’s drums. The bass tone at the beginning of ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ is especially earth-shaking though, I have a real thing for songs that fuck with genres and this one plays that groove beautifully – disco/indie/rock/dance/punk, none of it stands in the way of such a great track – I’ve danced around my kitchen more times than I care to remember to this tune, a sort of combined pogo with Saturday Night Fever arms was my best effort.
My current favourite track here is ‘Jealous Girls’ which robs parts of ‘My Sharona’ to great effect, adds some slashing guitar and totally heavy drumming, steeps the whole thing in caffeine and soundtracks Beth’s clarion call for more solidarity and less pettiness wonderfully. Sequenced brilliantly with the aggro soul ballad ‘Coal To Diamonds’ it sets both tracks off perfectly, again the minimal music sets the voice free to soar and purr.
Okay you get the picture? I love Standing In The Way Of Control, its angry bits, its sultry bits and, most especially, its dancey bits – the tracks that mix all three like, ‘Yr Mangled Heart’ just send me all of a tizzy. It isn’t quite perfect, ‘Holy Water’ falls very flat and ‘Keeping You Alive’ sounds too much like a lot of what has gone before, fine … but. The LP does finish on a high spot with the Nina Simone-like ‘Dark Lines’, a perfectly melancholy torch song with a dub-like echo on the strings and some tasteful piano:
Doesn’t cover up
The many sleepless nights
I can’t hide
Under dark drawn on lines
The circles underneath my eyes
It all seemed to explode for a while, self-styled ‘fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas’ Beth Ditto was everywhere in the media as an entertaining and challenging presence, well over here anyway; my friend’s wife even photographed her nude for a magazine cover. The band recorded a live LP in Liverpool (at a show I was too slow to get tickets for) and their next LP with Rick Rubin at the helm, but the magic seemed to have gone, one great track and two other okay ones was slim pickings for a band this fresh and this rousing. That’s okay though, some bands are a firework and not a bonfire, just make sure you listen up to what they left though.
Warning: The attached video shows uncensored footage of both knitting and careless eating of pizza.
*I like big buts.
**it sounds like ‘Seven Nation Army’ in a sequined frock to me. True story.