Music Reviews
Standing in the Way of Control

Gossip Standing in the Way of Control

(Kill Rock Stars) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

November 2nd, 2004 was the first time I voted in a presidential election. There's a tremendous sense of naïveté that comes with recent enfranchisement, a sort of unfounded feeling of empowerment, fuelled by five hours of waiting in line outside the public library. In the rain. Without an umbrella. Punching that stylus through the "Kerry" hole was the culminating achievement of my twenty years. Bush didn't stand a chance, you see, I voted against him. I had tickets lined up for Le Tigre and the Gossip for the next day, an enormous "fuck you" celebration for the entire radically liberal population of northeast Ohio. Naturally, when I woke up in the morning to a splitting headache and bad news on the television, I felt doubly deceived. Not only did my all-powerful vote mean absolutely nothing, but my riot rock take-that-America party was ruined.

My friends, a flask of whiskey and I dragged ourselves out to the show, embarrassed, defeated and miserable. The mood was dour. We thought Kathleen Hanna and Beth Ditto might be too upset to play with the proper intensity. When Ditto took the stage, she addressed us as friends, sympathetic and comforting, telling us to sing louder and party harder. I guess there's something about large, angry lesbians; it was the meanest, loudest, most vitriolic ruckus that I've ever had the pleasure of participating in.

It's a surprise to exactly nobody that Kill Rock Stars is one of my best-loved labels. If it's loud and upset about the patriarchy, then KRS probably hosts it. The Gossip is the genre's freshest poster child. Their newest release, Standing in the Way of Control, bubbles over with more of the unabashedly open grrly rancor and intense bass drum beats. It opens with a wrenching electric riff and Ditto's voice spreading over it a completely unsurprising lyric: "It ain't the end of the world, girl/You'll find your place in the world girl/All you gotta do is fight fire with fire." When she breaks into the chorus - and it really does feel like shattering glass - she lets loose a powerful rage that belies the simplicity of the lyrics. It's a promising opener, aptly showcasing Ditto's vocals.

Sadly, the rest isn't nearly as exciting. The Gossip credit themselves as a punk band, but this album might force them to consider redefinition. Standing in the Way of Control is much too tight for punk, something that can probably blamed - attributed?- on the band's new drummer. Most of the tracks, particularly the mellower ones like Coal to Diamonds or Holy Water lack the spontaneity of their earlier songs. The feel is much dancier, much poppier, in places sounding more like Le Tigre than the Gossip (try Keeping You Alive). In every song, the guitar synchs so flawlessly with the drums that they both lose the rough-around-the-edges quality that infuses "true" punk, dance or no. It feels too slow, maybe even somewhat forced.

Ditto's voice is the one singular element of this album. Dark Lines is a personal favourite. She breathes over a simple bassline, "Heavy makeup doesn't cover up/The many sleepless nights/I can't hide under dark drawn-on lines/The circles underneath my eyes/Oo, why me?" Her singing here is uncharacteristically soft and pretty, and it seems as though every song was written with the specific intent of showing her off. Confined to the spotlight, however she is almost too crisp and polished, much like her finely crafted backup. Her throaty, unashamed screaming has gone the way of the belly-scratching guitar and emotionally-infused, slightly arrhythmic drumming that characterized both Movement and That's Not What I Heard.

Standing in the Way of Control is undoubtedly well put together. It's confident and cohesive, but the precision may not be the Gossip's ideal sound. With increased studio quality and a more technically proficient drummer, they have sacrificed passion. I don't think that, had they performed this album that unfortunate day in November, we would have felt the same release. The message remains, but stops just short of rallying the same satisfying. This new incarnation just can't save the nation's liberal youth from crippling, anti-establishment ire like it used to.