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Beth Ditto - Fake Sugar (Album Review)

Friday, 23 June 2017 Written by Laura Johnson

A decade ago, Beth Ditto’s voice defined Gossip’s sound and helped put the band at the forefront of a vibrant scene when they smashed into the popular consciousness with ‘Standing in the Way of Control’. But how would she fare when set apart from her bandmates, with whom she’d been making music since her teens? That’s the question hanging heavy around the neck of her debut solo LP, ‘Fake Sugar’. The answer’s an easy one: she fares damn well.

In 2011, a year prior to the release of Gossip’s final album, ‘A Joyful Noise’, Ditto branched out on her own for a self-titled solo EP. The collection found her venturing away from the zeitgeisty indie-rock of her band and into a world of ‘90s-tinged electro and dancehall undertones. On ‘Fake Sugar’ she’s not content with looking over her shoulder, though, and instead stares way back to take inspiration from her southern roots.

The album’s lead single, Fire, perfectly blends scuzzy rock ‘n’ roll with gospel influences. “Bless my soul, that’s the way it is, bless my soul I can’t resist,” Ditto sings. As has always been the case, her vocals take centre stage. But it is the restraint as well as the power in her delivery that is impressive here. She knows when to let go and when to rein it in.

The latter quality is displayed beautifully on the understated, bass-led In and Out. Much like the title track, which even has a “swing your partner do-si-do” for good measure, the song proudly wears influences from country and blues. “I would love you like a millionaire living on a dollar a day,” Ditto sings. “Hey, money isn’t everything.”

There are other surprising strings to Ditto’s bow here, though. While on one hand we have Oo La La, a Kills-style rager where fierce staccato vocals spar with hefty beats and fuzz-laden guitars, we also have the defiantly pop-rock We Could Run and Love in Real Life, which would look at home alongside some timeless ballads.

Ditto has always been at home confounding expectations. She’s a spokesperson for positive body image, rejecting society’s superficial standards, but has still embraced the fashion world and the expression it allows. She loves punk and can be loud and brash, but also loves to stay at home and crochet. Ditto has chosen her first full length to showcase all elements of her personality.

‘Fake Sugar’ is a deeply personal record, but not one that should be taken at face value. Lover, for example, is about more than an ex. In a recent interview, the singer confirmed that the track was written following the death of her father and after her Gossip bandmate Nathan Howdeshell moved back to Arkansas and effectively ended the band. Go Baby Go is about one of her musical heroes, punk icon Alan Vega of Suicide, who passed away last year. “Now I’m gonna tell you the future, you, me, the creeps and the losers. Your pretty face ain’t going to waste, let’s ride baby ride,” she sings.

Ditto has drawn from a well stocked arsenal of influences here to blow any Gossip-centric preconceptions out of the water. We’re left with nothing but her for 42 minutes and she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Beth Ditto Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon October 16 2017 - LONDON KOKO
Tue October 17 2017 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall

Click here to compare & buy Beth Ditto Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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