You better hide all of those ABBA records you’ve been listening to all year, Beth Ditto, because I’m about to smash each one of them until you get back in touch with your Robyn-by-way-of-Betty-Davis roots. Pacific Northwest alt-glam trio Gossip’s A Joyful Noise reportedly comes on the heels of an extended binge on the effervescent, unabashedly contented Swedish titans’ back catalogue, and the result is an album that wears its disposability on its sleeve. Like so many ABBA songs, the tracks on A Joyful Noise make for a serviceable mixer against which to slip much harder substances, but by themselves they wouldn’t enliven a 2 p.m. brunch.
Which is, of course, all the more frustrating given the too-brief potency of Beth Ditto’s recent EP, which packed more bad faith and badder wisdom into each of its four tunes (the encroaching kiss-off “I Wrote the Book” and the reverberating kiss-on “Do You Need Someone” especially) than Ditto, Brace Paine, Hannah Billie, and producer Brian Higgins can muster in this entire suite. The grooves are by and large two-dimensional, and the sentiment offers even less presence. “I’m not as strong as you thought I was,” Ditto admits on the self-pity ballad “Casualties of War.” Gee, you could’ve fooled me last year.
Like so many gay men with a thing for her, I expect to be intimidated, not lulled, by Ditto. Divas who voice our insecurities are a dime a dozen (which she knows and even mocked in “Open Heart Surgery” when she snipped, “If girls like you and girls like me are really a dime a dozen, then why are we in such a high demand?”). Divas that shake us out of our comfort zones and demand better of us are a much rarer commodity. At her best, Ditto can be simultaneously enticing and terrifying, an addiction that, like Alex Forrest, will not be ignored, and a dash of clubland João Pedro Rodrigues. On A Joyful Noise, she’s the closing credits to another Another Gay Movie installment, perhaps no more so than when she chants, “I’d love to stay and party, but I’ve got to go to work” at the beginning of “Get a Job,” the “work” eventually repeating itself over and over and over again until it becomes “werq.” Then the verse kicks in and you realize it’s basically addressed in second-person to the wannabe Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world. Who wants to thrash to that?
Elsewhere, Fred Falke gives “Move in the Right Direction” a shot of electro drive, and the chorus of “Get Lost” recalls Inner City a tad. The album even ends on an upswing of sorts with the invigoratingly dissatisfied “I Won’t Play” and the alternately uplifting/downbeat “Love in a Foreign Place” (“So much to live for/So much to lose”), but that can’t make up for the album’s many capitulations to pop crossover. C’mon, punks. Gimme, gimme, gimme (a moan after midnight).