In the indie-rock and punk worlds, bands often treat vocals as an afterthought, and it usually shows in their flat or limited singing. The anyone-can-be-the-singer precept is part of the charm, though, and listeners just get used to it. That makes it more powerful when the rare, legitimately talented singer shows up, and it helps explain why The Gossip remains a powerful force three albums into its career.
Gossip singer Beth Ditto has long been the band's not-so-secret weapon, filling the vast space left open by Brace Paine's guitar and Hannah Blilie's drumming. Ditto can wail like a gospel singer with bugs under her skin, or quietly sing with an almost palpable vulnerability, and her range suits The Gossip's jagged, bluesy post-punk well. On Standing In The Way Of Control, she's once again in fine form.
The album's dance-y, soulful rock songs mostly stick to the band's established style, but Standing also exudes a newfound restraint. It's most apparent on "Coal To Diamonds" and "Dark Lines," where Ditto's haunting voice sings over sparse accompaniment. Although The Gossip has always known when to slow it down and let Ditto show off her chops, even the more intense tracks burn slowly and feel controlled when they let loose. The opening song, "Fire With Fire," simmers during its verses, which explode in choruses punctuated by Blilie's busy beats.
But "Coal To Diamonds" and "Dark Lines" (which ends the album) are the real standout tracks, mournful torch songs that show an impressive dexterity. "Dark Lines," in particular, proves the band can be at its most powerful when it explores an altogether different sound. Where The Gossip goes from here could be the most exciting part of Standing In The Way Of Control.