A Joyful Noise

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"So you're not a rock & roller/And there's nothin' wrong with that," Beth Ditto sings near the beginning of A Joyful Noise -- a knowing line, considering that she used to be one of the best female rock & rollers out there. However, since Standing in the Way of Control, the Gossip has moved in an increasingly pop direction, and never more so than on this set of songs. Inspired by ABBA, the band hired Brian Higgins from production team extraordinaire Xenomania to add a slick sheen to the album, which is most evident on "Get Lost," Ditto and crew's most convincing pop bid yet. But A Joyful Noise isn't especially frothy; there's some grit here, especially on "Melody Emergency," where Ditto's still-unmatchable voice dominates the track's slow grind, and fuzzy synths do their best impersonation of power chords. Higgins does his best to balance the band's past and present directions, wrapping "I Won't Play" in synth strings that Gary Numan would be proud to call his own. Despite its dubstep-tinged bass, "Get a Job," a pointed indictment of a poor little rich girl, could have easily appeared on an earlier Gossip album with a more lo-fi approach, and the stand-out "Horns" is an "On the Playground"-style takedown fueled by menacing strings and wah-wah riffs. Sometimes this balance doesn't always work -- the guitars on "Casualties of War" are engulfed by synths and drum machines -- but more often than not it does. The minor-key verses and soaring choruses on "Perfect World" and "Move in the Right Direction" recall Goldfrapp's polarizing album Head First; as on Music for Men, Pat Benatar -- another formidable vocalist who moved from rock to more manicured pop -- is also a touchstone here. A Joyful Noise isn't as raw or immediate as any of the Gossip's earlier albums, which makes it a bit of a grower for anyone attached to the band's previous firepower, but even if their liberating rock is really missed, there's nothin' wrong with their pop inclinations.

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