Standing in the Way of Control
Kill Rock Stars
ven without knowing the band's connection to Olympia, you could see how The Gossip are descendents of the riot grrrl scene, but while critics want to make much of that lineage, the group's far less politically in-your-face than any of the bands with a Hanna, a Sleater, and/or a Kinney. Instead the trio draws its instrumental influences more directly from The Stooges, and vocalist Beth Ditto owes her style more to Otis Redding. If I've picked male reference points, it's not because there aren't female ones handy (the Slits, Aretha), but to draw attention away from the group's image as girl-power-lesbian-statement-makers and back to the actual music, which, at least on Standing in the Way of Control, seems more relevant to what The Gossip actually do.
And what they do is rock the punk-in-a-soul-shack vibe quite well. Musically, the group's not adventurous; their direct performances reveal aggression in music you can get down to. Ditto, however, swings from punk snarl to near-croon with ease. Two tracks in, that change might seem unlikely, as Ditto brings the caterwaul for a High Fidelity-style opening, starting big and then kick it up to the anthemic number, in this case the title track. After a bit of a stall on "Jealous Girls," the group brings the smoky club out to the gutter by way of "Coal to Diamonds." Ditto does well to avoid trying for the beloved "chanteuse" designation, keeping her voice rough and bluesy, leaving the edges as a reminder that, soulful or not, this band fights first.
Immediately we start our ascent back to the garage, with a Detroit riff and a pose of staunch determination on the transitional "Eyes Open." The Gossip don't articulate their feminist streak in their lyrics, but they do, sometimes, model it, as they turn to "Yr Mangled Heart" and its memorable line: "If everything you do has got a hold on me / Then everything I do has got a hole in it." On the second go-round, Ditto changes the order of the clauses—"If everything I do has got a hole in it / Then everything you do has got a hold on me"—suggesting that her willingness to participate in this unequal relationship stems from an essential lack in the rest of her life. Hardly a novel thought, but one that the steady guitar and drums drive home with the repetition of "I don't want the world, I just want what I deserve." This song works not because it's original (which it isn't), but because it's such a fine statement song. In an era when flashing skin passes as empowerment, Ditto and her bandmates offer an ode to resistance even while acknowledging the internal difficulties of trying to do it alone.
A few tracks later, "Keeping You Alive" provides some hope for those you walked out with The Gossip in their minds. On this more post than punk track, Ditto uses a Pat Benatar influence to offer comfort and partnership: "There are people that love you / You don't have to do it alone ... I'll keep you alive." Unfortunately, the group closes their disc without maintaining their fortitude. "Dark Lines," with its repeated pleas of "Why me?" might effectively capture the post-breakup feeling as Ditto returns to her blues bar, but it also negates the personal strength The Gossip have been encouraging for the last half hour. The slowed-down music takes the disc out on an inappropriate mood and the lyrical content trades on maudlin loneliness, but it’s really Ditto's voice that's the tracks undoing (for the only time on the album). She sounds sultry, and almost seductive—a good vocal for the song's lonely desire—which turns her completely away from the attitude she's displayed.
That one song doesn't bring down an otherwise fun and frequently powerful disc, but it does put a slight taint to it. After all, this trio isn't Sleater-Kinney, and doesn't really aspire to be. Instead, they're basic punk rock with bursts of something to say. You won't be giving this record to your little sister to turn her into a riot grrrl, but you might just keep it for yourself.