Beth Ditto – Fake Sugar (Virgin)
This Arkansas native is one of the most electrifying vocalists of the last 20 years—and yet if she has any celebrity at all (which she does in Britain) it’s as a style icon, a self-identified “fat” activist, a queer role model, and just about anything except the singer of dance-punk trio the Gossip, who only recently announced their split, five years after their last record.
It’s important to remember why anyone paid attention to Beth Ditto in the first place: she’s one of the most charismatic front people in rock’n’roll history, able to whip crowds into a sweaty mess within the first three songs of any set, whether the audience is 30 people or 30,000. And it’s not just through the force of her personality: it’s her voice, that all-American blend of country, R&B, gospel and punk, capable of heartbreaking subtlety and righteous hellfire. It’s a voice with the confidence to conquer small towns and narrow minds, a voice that is and was a beacon to bullied freaks everywhere.
The Gossip were a trio that began based in the blues, eventually morphing into Euro dance-pop—in ways that few similar bands, with the exception of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, have ever done successfully. Now that she’s on her own, Ditto doesn’t feel pinned down by any sound: chart pop, new country, sappy ballads (in the best possible way), and of course everything the Gossip always did so well. Meanwhile, “We Could Run” sounds like the best track that didn’t make it on to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. The title track is a perfect ’80s soft-rock hit that wouldn’t be out of place on Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night. Throughout, Ditto shows off her maturity as a vocalist by exploring softer shades that didn’t always shine through on her earlier work.
She’s 36 now, and playing the long game; these are songs she’ll still be singing when she’s 75—if her success in the fashion world doesn’t keep her away from a microphone. The world has always needed more Beth Ditto, but these days in particular her voice and her message is much more important than her taste in clothes. (June 22, 2017)
Beth Ditto plays the Mod Club in Toronto on March 17.
Stream: “In and Out,” “Oo La La,” “Do You Want Me To”