Album: Gossip, Music for Men, (Columbia)

Since "Standing in the Way of Control" hoisted Gossip from cult favourites to stars in 2006, Beth Ditto's larger-than-life personality and unfettered outsider opinions have made her the natural focus of media attention, so much so that it would be easy to forget that Gossip is a band, and not just Beth's backing crew. Hence, presumably, the album title - a sardonic hedge against groundless suppositions that she might be addressing a purely lesbian constituency - and the cover photo, which features just the drummer, Hannah Billie, looking like the kind of androgynous rockabilly dreamboat one might find adorning a Morrissey album sleeve.

Having signed the band to Columbia, Rick Rubin protects his investment by also serving as producer, a role in which he's become renowned for refocusing Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond on the spiritual core of their talents. Likewise with Gossip, he doesn't so much alter or embellish what they do, as allow it to come forth with greater clarity and directness. In the case of the single, "Heavy Cross", that results in a retread of "Standing in the Way of Control", with oppositional sentiments set to a sort of anticipatory dynamic, and delivered with trademark Ditto inflections over slash'n'burn punk-funk riffing. Here and on "8th Wonder", it closely resembles the classic Gang of Four formula, with Brace Paine's guitar slashing across the brutal funk groove. It's a noble and apt heritage for a band whose success carries a certain polemical weight, although Gossip are no match for the Go4's knotty ideological proclamations, Ditto restricting herself to the kind of vague generalities that can be delivered in sloganeering phrases such as "We can play it safe, or play it cool", "If there's a risk, I'll take it" and "What goes around comes back around" - a line that has been around the block more times than anyone can remember.

"2012" and "Spare Me from the Mold" are driven infectiously by spartan guitar dance grooves that recall the B-52's, while the club-oriented riffs of the piano-led "Love Long Distance" and "Pop Goes the World" bring to mind the mid-1980s disco-funk approach pioneered by Ze Records. Rubin's skill lies in the way he's managed to sit Ditto's vocals comfortably among the limber arrangements without sounding as if she's in conflict with the music, which was occasionally the case on previous recordings. He's framed her voice to its best advantage, and in doing so he's put paid to the canard that finds Ditto frequently compared to Janis Joplin: throughout this album, Beth is as disciplined as Janis was wont to wallow in indulgent blues mannerisms, her voice designed for cutting rather than clubbing into submission.

DOWNLOAD THIS: 'Heavy Cross', 'Spare Me from the Mold', 'Pop Goes the World', '2012', 'Dimestore Diamond'