In 2006 (The) Gossip exploded onto the scene with their third album Standing in the Way of Control. The eponymous, ubiquitous single became the soundtrack of that year and the next. The band toured everywhere popping up at festivals all over the world. It felt like this band could be huge but equally it felt like it could all just fizzle out. Two more albums followed, the last of which was in 2012, but the Gossip never reached the heady heights of 2007 again. In the intervening period lead singer Beth Ditto, who as it turned out harboured a number of ambitions outside of the band, released her own make-up range, designed her own clothes, did some modelling, wrote and released her own biography, did a stint as an agony aunt for the Guardian, appeared on a couple of tracks by other artists and released a solo EP. Oh and she got married twice…to the same person. Now at the tender age of 36 Ditto is releasing her solo album Fake Sugar.
Firmly in the more-pop-than-rock realm, standout tracks on the album are first single ‘Fire’ – a southern slowburner (sorry) which gets better with every listen. ‘Savoir Faire’ is ’80s disco perfection and ‘Oh My God’ sounds like it has been around for years such is the sense of familiarity evinced upon hearing it. There is also what Ditto calls her U2 song in ‘We Could Run’. If you listen to it you will immediately understand what she means, especially when she gets around to belting out the chorus. It’s about her former bandmate Nathan Howdeshell turning his back on the Gossip and running back to Arkansas to be a born again Christian (no, really).
On ‘Oo La La’, which is the most ‘Gossip-y’ song on the album, Ditto lets go and gets a little bit shouty and the song is all the better for it. This song will go down well live. The overall feeling with this debut album is that as things go, there are more than a handful of standout tracks spaced out over the duration. Fake Sugar covers a lot of musical ground and a lot of styles. The one thing holding it all together – as it should be – is Ditto’s voice. She said that she wrote around 60 songs for this album so there is clearly a lot of material we haven’t heard yet which will likely form the basis of a second album. Ditto also said that she underplayed her role in Gossip with regards songwriting and this was something she wanted to prove when it came to putting an album together, to herself and everyone else. She has more than accomplished that on this album.
Sonically, the music is great, but a little too nice and I don’t mean that in a bad way. What I mean is it’s a little too smooth when it should be rough around the edges. It’s not over-produced like some of the music out there at the moment, but it lacks a little punch on some of the tracks. They are not as driving as they could be. Maybe it was a conscious decision to move away from the shouty dance-rock of Gossip but as Ditto herself says she misses her former outfit every day. My one request next time around would be to turn the guitars up just a little bit, but I am definitely interested to see what comes next.