THE PULL THAT lures Hollywood stars from the spas of Beverly Hills to the low-paying life of Broadway acting is a mind-boggler to me. Case in point: Christina Applegate put multi-million dollar film projects on hold just to prove she could be more than Kelly Bundy, giving up everything to appear onstage in Broadway's Sweet Charity. Similarly, with their upcoming album, Standing in the Way of Control, the Gossip has apparently taken a cue from the brazen blonde, pursuing their own metaphorical Broadway.
The Gossip has abandoned their signature sleazy blues, a departure that may make or break them, but will most assuredly alienate at least half of their fans. Since 2000, when the three-piece busted out of the Arkansas punk scene, their lesbionic sex slop has slathered the minds of young teen girls and garage-punk fans everywhere. Along with like-minded acts such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the White Stripes, the Gossip's retro-leaning sound drove both the underground and mainstream wild with a blues-tinged clamor that was deadly for two reasons: (1) Beth Ditto's pro-fat and feminist-friendly agenda delivered by a voice that rivals Christina Aguilera's agility and Macy Gray's huskiness. (2) The live show was gritty, danceable, and undeniably raucous.
Their past two releases have been a totally different story. 2000's That's Not What I Heard and 2003's Movement were little more than poorly recorded exposés of Kathy's bam-bam drumming and Nathan's laughably perfunctory guitar riffs. It's rare to find a band that showcases 100 percent of their talent on stage and discloses 100 percent of their shortcomings in the studio. Good thing the Gossip spends half their lives touring.
Despite the seemingly effortless success their bayou-inspired live shows brought, they've left the swamp and stepped onto the disco floor (a respectable yet strange choice of allegiances, considering we're all just getting over a disco-punk hangover). Undoubtedly, Nathan's massive presence in the Portland hipster club circuit (as DJ Nightschool) has driven their new sound to reflect his devotion to dance punk, pop, and anything else that moves asses.
Standing in the Way clearly banishes stomping blues beats in favor of LCD Soundsystem-esque high-hat tickling—which is not surprising, considering the new girl behind the drum kit is the very skilled (and very buff) Hannah of Seattle's Shoplifting. The recording quality is no longer a distracting factor, and the song format has evolved into listener-friendly pop structure. Beth's vocals are crystal clear and overwhelming—the only way they should be. The biggest improvement, though, is the maturity of Nathan's guitar work, which does double duty as bass and guitar, filling up the space where a lot of their drums/guitars/vocal-based peers would sound empty and too sparse.
On Broadway, Applegate not only proved she could read a script (and read it well) but ended up taking over the whole damn strip—all because she left the comforts of her success. Let's hope the same deserved Broadway happy ending goes down for the Gossip.