Gossip For Glory

2 Aug

Illustration by Tory Sica

So one of the albums catching my attention as of late has been Music For Men the latest release by one of the last remaining beacons of punk rock hope, The Gossip.  There has been a lot of talk surrounding this album, partly due to the success of their third release Standing In The Way Of Control.  Many fans are embracing the dance-inspired tunes with open arms – other are reluctant to join in the fun, throwing around terms like “sell-out” as explanation.  While I would be hard pressed to call the current incarnation of their sound punk, may they yet still prove to be bastions of strength, change and rebelliousness in music?

I like to think that my tastes in music are far reaching, but I do have a significant and fairly well known soft spot for the loud, sometimes cacophonous, often poorly produced, pulled together sounds of punk rock. Though I count many shades and varieties of this potent genre, often far more than your average music critic – it has always seemed to be a genre of ideas rather than one confined to a short era in history or by a characteristically scratchy guitar sound.

On the other hand, it has usually included some form of high tempo mischief.


Gossip preform “Standing In The Way Of Control” the song that got them famous in england in 2005. (I was at this show and it was bloody awesome.)

Disco, long perceived as Punk’s arch-nemesis, seems to be making a comeback. Historically disco and punk have their origins in the same era and mindset with two obviously differing results.  Shortly after disco’s explosion of popularity however, there hardly was any hint of that rebelliousness left.  That is except of course, in the gay community where, through ever-present glamour and polish, it remained a F-you to the system.  A way to claim an area, if even only a dance floor, as a place for safety, freedom, and love.  Disco, if looked at through the same lens I take to punk, has remained with the gay community in some form or another throughout the years.  Yet despite it’s staying power, whether it be termed house, dance, or electronica, it has long since lost the bite of its youth.

And punk, for all its brazen potential, has in the past few years seemed to be on a waning decline.  While not universally true there have been a large sum of bands dissolving, and many more in their wake who, while still making wonderful music, are retireing the lo-fi sounds of punk in favor of reinventing genres gone out of fashion, whether it be country-rock, bluegrass, or disco itself.

Which brings me back to The Gossip.  Those familiar with the first few albums know well the surprisingly potent roots-meets-grunge music they produced.  It’s true Music For Men sounds like a far cry from where they started.  In reality however, it only represents a progression from a band that was already playing around with disco-tinged music.  And they’re not the one ones.  It’s Blitz the latest album from fellow art-punks Yeah Yeah Yeah’s also turned heads with its disco sound, and was inspired by the same track that led to most ‘post-punk’ music in the 80’s: Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.”


It’s not to say that there isn’t the potential for the voices of brazen artists to reach people through disco.  In fact, it would seem quite the opposite.  Take Public Image Ltd, John Lydon’s project after The Sex Pistols, and the last track on their debut album. “Fodderstompf” arguably the most pivitol song on the record is one-long disco inspired mess.  Mind you, it was clearly made with the intention of taking the piss out of the record execs’ contractual minimum time limit on the album, and was not without a sense of parody for the genre.  Yet when it came time to record album number two, guess which song provided the ground work?  The result is that one of the most influential bands and icons of the genre turned the direction of punk onto a disco curve.  According to music historian Simon Reynolds:

“Around this time Lydon Started telling the press that the only contemporary music he really cared for was disco, a striking rhetorical move given the fact that the standard punk stance was that disco sucked.  PiL, he stressed were a dance band.  Disco was functional, useful music.  It dispensed with all the bollocks, the false  hopes, and unwise investments in rock as counterculture that punk had ended up perpetuating.”

Say what you will about disco, it’s hard not to see Lydon’s point.  For all the seriousness of punk with its delusions of grandeur for changing the world through music; sometimes the most honest thing you can do is dance.

The argument can also be made that for someone on the outskirts of culture to influence it just by yelling at it, is not unlike yelling at a herd of cattle to change directions.  You can put your all into it, but the odds of success are decidedly against you.  Might it not be a better solution then, to change things from the inside?  If, at the end of the day, all people really want to do is dance, then why not say something interesting at the same time?  That is after all Le Tigre’s basic modus operandi, and there was never any shortage of punk rock loving kids getting down at their shows.  And bands like Hercules And Love Affair and Glass Candy have been producing music that is unabashedly disco, and doing so in such a way that has the potential to shake up the status-quo more than a guitar currently would.

So why then does it seem different for The Gossip?

Beth Ditto circa 2005A major factor, not to be ignored, is the decidedly punk rock cliché of selling out.  They did after all leave hometown queer friendly label, Kill Rock Stars, for giant über-label Sony.  Though again, if the goal is to makegood music that reaches a vast audience, wouldn’t the best way to do that be signing to a label large enough to reach them?  And changing labels does not implicitly mean a loss of quality.

However, major labels do tend to mean production budgets far bigger than small bands are used to.  The result for The Gossip is an album far slicker than anything they’ve done before.  Due in no small part to producer, and co-head of columbia records, Rick Rubin.  So much polish in fact that there are times when it sounds closer to Lady GaGa than Le Tigre.  Drum machines and synths place less importance on guitarist Brace Paine and drummer Hannah Blilie while highlighting Beth Ditto’s formidable voice.  This shift in sonic focus does not appear right away.  The first few tracks of Music For Men seem to be a logical progression from Standing In The Way Of Control. As the album continues however, the disco shine starts to come into full view, leading to moments where there seems little to do for Brace and Hannah.  And I can’t help but be a little concerned for the future of the band over their level of boredom with this new sound.

The Lyrics are quick to enforce their punk rock roots, with references to The Slits (“I’ve heard it through the bass line/ how much longer will you be my baby”) and others.  Yet closing track “Spare Me From The Mold”, arguably the weakest track on the album sounds forced and reaching.  As though it were only included to convince you they can still thrash.

Despite what it may seem, I am not saying I don’t like the album.  In fact, I toe-tap through it quite happily while on my way to work.  No matter how much I listen to it though, I can’t quite help but feel there was a better version waiting to be recorded.  Beth has in no way lost any of her piss and vinegar, and it is quite simply thrilling to watch her own the role of punk-rock diva: wearing designer clothes and dedicating songs to the “faggots and slit-lickers” in the audience.  Given that fiery energy it’s hard not to feel like Music For Men is the dressed up, tamed down result of what we were all hoping would be their best album yet.  So I am left pondering whether or not it is possible for a disco album to ever truly be punk.  Or will it always inevitably succumb to the glitter and glamour of fame instead?


The video for the lead single from Music For Men, “Heavy Cross” from 2009.

Illustration by Tory Sica.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: