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The Gossip
Music For Men Ben Hewitt , June 22nd, 2009 11:33

If what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then The Gossip should be a fire-breathing, disco-punk monster after managing to escape from a potentially fatal association with the cancerous cretins from Skins with their career and credibility still intact. Yet their grasp on success still feels brittle. 2006's 'Standing In The Way Of Control' was a sublime slice of pop brilliance , but a breakthrough single can bury a career just as quickly as elevating it if subsequent efforts don't reach the same giddy heights. With a discography of patchy riot-grrrl scratchings (2001's That's Not What I Heard and 2003's Movement) that produced some top-notch singles but not much more, fears abound that such intense exposure may only serve to shine a spotlight on their weaknesses instead of paving the way for future glory.

Yet Music For Men refuses to cower in fear from the pressure of increased expectations. Proudly drenched in the sweaty, early-morning euphoria of the dance floor, it takes the adrenaline-fuelled brilliance of their best work to date and smoothes it out into a more consistent long player. 'Heavy Cross', like the crazed little sister of 'Standing . . .', goes straight for the jugular: a nagging riff that apes Stevie Nicks' 'Edge Of Seventeen' mixed with sweet fuzzy guitar and Beth Ditto's lurching, sultry-to-shrieking vocals to create a snarling beast. '8th wonder' is another exhilarating blast of frenetic pop-punk joy which forces itself into your membranes, while the woozy-synthesisers and staccato handclaps of 'Four Letter Word' are equally captivating.

Delivering the occasional flash of pop glory, however, has always been within The Gossip's capabilities; where Music For Men outstrips its predecessors is in its glossier musical palette. Under the watchful eye of production guru Rick Rubin, stinging guitars are swapped for 80s-tinged swathes of electronic beats give 'Pop Goes The World' and the aforementioned 'Four Letter Word' for a coat of dark, shimmering disco. There's a greater propensity to give tracks more room to breathe, too. Rather than beginning with a crescendo of screeching noise, the rumbling bass of 'Dimestore Diamond' is allowed to swell into a scathing assessment of a girl who sports "Low cut sweaters with her skirts above her knees"; elsewhere, 'Love Long Distance' uses its opening bare piano to recount a tale of paranoia and jealousy on the dance floor as Ditto frets that she's "heard it through the bassline that not much longer would you be my baby". It's a welcome break from the relentless pace of their earlier offerings and delivers a deeper, more varied record.

That's not to say that Music For Men is immune from lagging. The stalling, chugging guitar of 'Vertical Rhythm' and brash adolescent thrashings of 'Spare Me From The Mold' never gather enough momentum to take off. Equally worrying, perhaps, are some of Ditto's lyrics. The sight of a 15-stone lesbian gracing the front covers of magazines may be refreshing, but she often betrays signs of taking her position as alternative poster girl too seriously, whether in her smug put-down, "You're so conventional, it's comical / That you always do the same" or proud claim that "If there's a risk, I'll take it".

Perhaps that's a fault of the media machine more than The Gossip, though; Ditto has been constructed so heavily as an anti-conventional pop icon that's it hard not to interpret her every utterance through that frame. And there's no doubt that Music For Men displays a deft progression from their previous offerings without compromising on the razor-sharp pop nous that used to reveal itself in sudden bursts. Surviving the hype and avoiding the backlash from a media machine adept at building artists up to tear them down while simultaneously evolving as a band is no easy feat, but it's one that The Gossip have achieved. Not much should stand in their way now.

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