The fourth album and major-label debut by rural Arkansas-to-Olympia, Wash. transplants the Gossip has been one of the most anticipated releases of the last few years: The irrepressible dance-punk trio broke out of the underground and achieved a measure of mainstream success with the undeniable grooves of "Standing in the Way of Control" (2005), and in the process, frontwoman Beth Ditto--a funny, flamboyant and endlessly quotable opponent of sexism, homophobia and sizism--has become a left-of-center star, recognized for her charming outrageousness as well as for possessing one of the most powerful and soulful voices to appear on the rock scene since the alternative era.
Unfortunately, en route to more exposure via the still sadly retrogressive major-label system, the Gossip was paired with superstar producer Rick Rubin, who's helmed recordings by artists ranging from Slayer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash. With the latter, he wisely played a minimal role and simply paired the rock pioneer with good material and the most simple and direct of sounds, the better for him to shine. He should have taken a similar approach with Ditto and her bandmates, but the relatively minimal core of her vocals, the rhythmic guitar lines of Brace Paine and the propulsive drumming of Hannah Billie is needlessly polished and over-produced, cleansed of all of the grit of the band's live shows and robbed of almost all of its character.
There is clearly another set of solid Gossip material below the dated radio-friendly sheen that Rubin hoses all over these tunes, with tracks such as "Dimestore Diamond," "Heavy Cross" and "8th Wonder" struggling to escape the gloss. But in the end, too much of the character we've come to love about this band has been obscured, and the Gossip has to take some of the blame for being seduced--and declawed--by the star-making machine.
The Gossip performs at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, after opening sets by Post Honeymoon and Men starting at 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door; visit www.metrochicago.com.