Where to start? The title? “A Joyful Noise” might be the most subjective album title of 2012, if not the most utterly deceitful one. And the music? Gossip’s fifth full-length is very much so a departure from their earlier work, unfortunately it keeps the occasionally delicious “signature Gossip” redeeming qualities too few and far between.
Seconds into the opening track, “Melody Emergency,” it’s quite evident that the star of the album is still definitely Beth Ditto’s vocals, something that has not changed since their 2000 debut That’s Not What I Heard. But A Joyful Noise really does set itself apart. In past albums, the composition and Ditto’s mammoth vocal talent work together to make an interesting dance-punk balance. Here, the composition (read: production) is nearly shot, and Beth Ditto’s voice alone is not enough to justify the album’s 45 minute running time.
A Joyful Noise almost completely loses the post-punk / dance-punk / whatever-punk association of Gossip’s previous work. The “punk” has been dropped and all that’s left is overbearing “dance.” No longer is there the minimalist sass and spunk from 2009′s enjoyable Music for Men. Instead, unrelenting bass and synths flood each track, making for indigestible gobs of over-processed sounds. Take for instance, the aforementioned “Melody Emergency,” which fruitlessly attempts to achieve the simplicity of Music For Men highlight “Dimestore Diamond.” The overproduction is obvious and the strive for minimalistic appeal ultimately falls flat. You’ll have to dig through Gossip’s earlier work for that. Nearly all the tracks on this latest release have the same problem of overproduction, bringing on a heavy case of unwelcome monotony.
The album’s best songs, “Casualties of War” and “Get Lost” stand out from the sea of heavy-handed production; the former approaches a stadium-level of pop, something Beth Ditto’s voice lends itself to (some will argue this is exactly where she belongs). The latter comes in with an admirable bluesy, psychedelic hook that is actually complemented by the album’s customary dosage of synth. But still, these only qualify to be called highlights because the rest of the album’s tracks are so forgettable.
In fact, Beth Ditto’s vocals might be the only redeeming quality on A Joyful Noise. On-point and able to reach several octaves within the span of a single verse, Ditto executes with ease and wavers with just the right amount of bluesy soul, and yet, along with the rest of the album, even Ditto’s vocals are more processed and filtered than ever before. It isn’t always noticeable, but we can only imagine the album’s repetitive refrains would sound a hell of a lot better with Ditto’s natural talent at the helm.
On some days, depending on your mood, you can probably ignore the pounding, repetitive rhythms for a bit, but you’ll only be greeted with cookie-cutter lyrics that give Flo Rida songs a run for their money. “Going Pop” has always been a scandalous, seemingly inevitable career move for many bands, but it’s been a while since a band has so blatantly bought into the tired rockist stereotype that Pop is dumb and shallow and only worth its weight in when someone is inebriated on the dance floor.