If Rick Rubin's production of 2009's Music for Men allowed Gossip's core rock character to come through unhindered, then the involvement of Brian Higgins on A Joyful Noise enables the group to break new ground with confidence.
Higgins, whose Xenomania team are renowned for their work with UK girl groups like Sugababes and Girls Aloud, has managed to facilitate Gossip's transformation from rock to electropop with no discernible loss of impact – and more impressive still, without requiring any sacrifice of character on Beth Ditto's part.
Instead, what's happened is a slight scaling-down of Ditto's approach, so as not to burst the hems of the more restrained arrangements. It's actually worked to her advantage: she's required to demonstrate more poise and subtlety than before, even when delivering atavistic claims like “you can't deny the animal in you” over the prowling deep bass of “Melody Emergency”, one of several dynamic electro-funk grooves. And on the more downbeat “Casualties of War”, the album's equivalent of a power ballad, her voice modulates smoothly over the song's undulating melody, with no trace of shrillness in the stressed-out moments. Rather than a rock-chick belter, Ditto's matured into a considerable interpreter of a wider range of material. And while she's previously broached such matters as breaking free from small-town mores, she's never done it as thoughtfully as in “Love in a Foreign Place”.
Musically, there are gains and losses from the new approach. The trustafarian put-down “Get a Job” has the kind of loping electro-bass pulse that grime acts would kill for, and the striding stomp-beat of “Move in the Right Direction” will surely furnish Gossip one of their biggest hits. But the Italian house-style piano vamp of “Get Lost” sounds tired. But if the result involves bringing that irresistible rolling, funky swing to tracks such as “Horns” and “Involved”, then it must be regarded as a positive move.
Download: Melody Emergency; Move in the Right Direction; Horns; Involved