Eternally cool singer, author and fashion designer made her mark as Gossip’s front woman, proving when it comes to pop icons; bigger, gayer and louder is better. 2007’s “Standing in the Way of Control” is the queer anthem we needed – and arguably still do – to jolt us into action and take what we need for our community to survive.
In Trump’s America and May’s UK, she is the bold and fearless leader the queer community needs. Ditto embraces her southern roots and returns with her debut solo album Fake Sugar, a southern rock-tinged album touching on former flames, band betrayals and the realities of love.
Much has happened since Gossip’s last record in 2012; she got married to her girlfriend Kristin Ogata for one, but 2016 saw the group disband indefinitely.
Ditto describes the split as a direct result of guitarist and lifelong friend Nathan Howdeshell drifting away, returning to Arkansas and becoming a born again Christian and breaking Ditto’s heart in the process.
“It was the longest relationship of my life, the longest job of my life. I spent longer with him, travelling the world, than anyone else. It felt like a creative death. It was like you left the cult, but you had to leave your friend behind,” she revealed to The Guardian.
The makings of a solid country-tinged album, no?
Highlights on Fake Sugar include opening track ‘Fire’, a rousing southern rock song with a Sleigh Bells vibe, and ‘Lover’, which begins with a 70s spoken word intro and escalates into a huge chorus that shows off her pipes. Cher would be amazing singing this.
The record’s highlight is undoubtedly ‘We Could Run’, a bracing power rock anthem that could have been written by The Killers. In what could be her best song since her solo EP’s ‘I Wrote the Book’, Ditto’s powerful voice makes the hairs on your neck stand on end.
The general direction of the album could be said to be southern country rock, but she leaves few stones left unturned (power ballads, folk, pop rock…); it’s interesting that Ditto has rejected the house/electronic sound of her underrated eponymous EP (collaborating with the often forgotten gems Simian Mobile Disco).
Tracks like ‘Fake Sugar’ reinforce the authenticity she brings to this venture into country. Being from southern city Searcy, Arkansas and having the chops to back up her soulful leanings, the southern rock and soul Ditto offers feels intrinsic to her character and brings more to the table than Gaga could muster with the lacklustre Joanne.
The album’s first half is notably stronger than the second, with tracks like ‘Do You Want Me To’ and ‘Clouds’ struggling to both match the hooks and power of the earlier songs and the insatiable energy of her solo EP.
The musical direction of the record feels confused at times. ‘Oo La La’, a great track full of the character and swagger we come to expect from Beth Ditto, sounds like Madonna and Elvis had a love child; where does that belong on a southern rock record?
And there are moments that feel still too connected to Gossip; the riskiest tracks, radically different to Gossip’s brilliant efforts, play the best; ‘Oh My God’ is fine, but could be a Gossip B-side.
On ‘We Could Run’ she sings “There are rules that I’m in to break…We could always play it safe but that’s no fun;” both in love, this record and her status as pop’s renegade, Ditto is at her best when she takes risks.
Beth Ditto’s voice and character are unlike anything else on pop’s current landscape of diluted dancehall and girl groups; her music and persona have remain a bombastic tour de force that jolts and moves us in the right direction.
Thank God for Beth Ditto.