“So you’re not rock ‘n’ roller and there’s nothing wrong with that”. A line, taken from the opening track of Gossip’s fifth album, that sums up their current position to a tee. When they first broke through after six years of trying they were a punk band fronted by a pop star, although the problem was that Beth Ditto’s role as the latter overshadowed everything else. It was her flamboyant personality, combined with one killer song, that carried them through in the short term and meant that they didn’t immediately disappear back off the radar. The subsequent Rick Rubin produced album Music For Men provided a stay of execution but it still seems that a sharp change of direction was required, with Xenomania’s Brian Higgins brought in to helm the optimistically titled A Joyful Noise.
The aforementioned ‘Melody Emergency’ suggests that this isn’t as radical move as you might think, combining a tight band sound with a crystal clear vocal. It’s pretty good, as is lead single ‘Perfect World’ – a suggestion that a more pop orientated Gossip isn’t that bad an idea. Yet soon the sense of Brace Pain and Hannah Blilie’s involvement begins to slip away, leaving A Joyful Noise as the Ditto / Higgins show. Neither are truly capable of pulling it off. For an album in a genre that depends on melody and hooks, there’s very little here that sticks in the mind or will have you whistling in the street. What you get is a series of average tunes that fall flat where they should jump for joy and merely send you skimming your record collection for a Girls Aloud album. Given the fuss made of the pairing, it has to be marked down as a failure and far from a glorious one. For Higgins it’s probably best marked down as a lesson learned while he returns to the world he knows best, yet for Gossip themselves it stands as yet another case of diminishing returns. Time, you feel, is running out.