It's easy to see why the Gossip chose an androgynous snap of drummer Hannah Billie for their fourth album cover. The Arkansas trio have become famed for two things: Beth Ditto, a frontwoman who isn't afraid of taking her clothes off and speaking her mind, and a gigantic dancefloor smash in 'Standing In The Way Of Control', as much a part of the late-noughties indie disco as skinny jeans, spilt cider and asymmetrical fringes. Music For Men's rather plain sleeve is the band's subtle way of saying they've got more to offer than Ditto's brash public image and a catchy disco riff that was on the soundtrack to Skins. The Gossip had been moulding Riot Grrrl, southern garage and art rock influences for seven years before they finally scored a smash and this record is their attempt to prove that they're more than one hit wonders.
The appointment of Rick Rubin as producer was a promising starting point. Renowned for helping acts to(re)discover their creative mojo, he seems like a perfect fit for a group who'd found themselves a tad confused after making a sudden shift from outsiders to broadsheet favourites with just one song. Rubin has managed to nail a "new sound" for the Gossip on Music For Men, but sadly this isn't the furious dance/punk hybrid that many had anticipated. Instead it's a slightly lifeless, oddly placid mixture of funk and disco that lands a few juicy punches - an electronic crunch here and a fizzy pop chorus there - but nothing you could call a knock-out blow.
Any essence of the garage-rock beginnings that lingered on 2006's Standing... have been ditched here, as the band fully embrace the dirty disco vibe of their breakthrough hit. Only on the wiry, twitchy guitars of '8th Wonder' and energetic punk of closer 'Spare Me From The Mold' do they revisit their more aggressive, harder-rocking style of old. Elsewhere, the band's newfound love for all things dancey provides mixed results. On lead single 'Heavy Cross' they waddle along aimlessly with what's basically a watered-down, less sprightly version of 'SITWOC'. However, the loose, menacing funk of opener 'Dimestore Diamond', on which Ditto coos about a female with "low-cut sweaters [and] her skirt above her knees", does prove the band can mix grooves and guitars to winning effect.
We have to remember though that The Gossip have been having more hits with their dance and electro stuff in more recent times.
Elsewhere, 'Pop Goes The World' is a fidgety booty-shaker that throws in the electronic kitchen sink; 'Love Long Distance' sees Ditto channel Gloria Gaynor as she warbles about a failed romance over house piano lines; and 'Men In Love' is the closest the group come to matching the dancefloor glee of 'SITWOC'. Sadly, the second half of the disc slumps in quality dramatically, with Ditto's natural exuberance curtailed by flabby funk workouts and sparkle-free disco rhythms. In particular, 'Love And Let Love' and 'Four Letter Word' drag their heels rather painfully. If the Gossip don't already feel haunted enough by the spectre of 'SITWOC', Music For Men should confirm their worst fears. This album is far from a disaster, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that Ditto and co. have failed to escape the shadow of that song.
The biggest difference is that this album in Australia is being released by Sony Music, who for some reason are slashing budgets across the board, and as this release isnt a "TV" advert type release, i doubt we will hear much mroe about it... whereas the previous album, released by popfrenzy - a small indie, managed to pull off a substantial marketing budget to help the release, making it the success it was.
Its a real shame, as without advertising and promotion, this will definitely fall under the radar in Oz, and SO deserves not too.