A Joyful Noise is the much anticipated fifth album from the highly admired US three piece band Gossip, and is the follow up to their successful 2009 album Music For Men. This album seems to represent a turning point for the band and their sound, and it shows.
Front woman Beth Ditto has given much credit to the 1990s riot grrrl movement for the music she has created with Gossip, and to the small independent riot grrrl labels that released their earlier albums – K Records (who released Gossip’s debut EP) and the famous Kill Rock Stars label (who released the next three albums, before they signed up to major label Columbia for Music for Men.) In what seems to me like an interesting parallel, it appears that with this album the trademark sound of the Gossip has evolved in a similar way to probably the most famous riot grrrl of them all – Kathleen Hanna.
Kathleen Hanna started off making punk infused noise in riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, before moving on to form the band Le Tigre, who, although they still had the same punk and feminist ethics as Bikini Kill always had, made notably different music – with Le Tigre the music was more electronic and dance oriented. Gossip started off their career with a blend of blues, indie and punk, evolving into more electronic territory on Standing in the Way of Control and Music for Men. On A Joyful Noise the electronic element is still present, but the music seems to be a bit more commercial and dance oriented.
On my first listen to A Joyful Noise the fact that Gossip were sounding more pop than indie, did put me off a little to begin with. However, I persisted and found that the more I listened to the album, the more accustomed I became to the new sound, and found I was enjoying it a bit more with each consequent listen.
She seems to be suggesting things have been hard, but it’s time to think positive and start to move on to better things
A Joyful Noise is a pretty accurate name for this album, as the tempo is very upbeat for the most part, and I am certain some of the songs on this album are good candidates for becoming serious dance anthems such as ‘Get a Job’ with its catchy refrain of “I’d love to stay and party, but I gotta go to work”. Saying that, when you get about halfway through ‘A Joyful Noise’, the pace slows down with the beautiful ballad ‘Casualties of War’ which really showcases just how gentle, sweet, and yet powerful, Beth Ditto’s vocal ability really is.
With subsequent listens, I also started to notice a similar theme throughout the songs. A lot of A Joyful Noise seems to be about moving on from old ways of thinking and old relationships – the prime example of this is shown with the song ‘Move in the Right Direction’ with its lyrics being “I hold back tears, I move in the right direction, I face my fears, move in the right direction, I’m doing fine, one step closer a day at a time”. She seems to be suggesting things have been hard, but it’s time to think positive and start to move on to better things.
It’s worth getting past the fact that the sound is a little less ‘punk’ than in previous albums, as after all it’s still Gossip, and all the elements that we love about the band and their music are still there
The relationship theme occurs in many of the other songs – ‘Get Lost’, which feels like it could be a massively popular club track, is again about letting someone go and moving on. In this one Beth sings “I decided to move on, to find me something I could lean on, something I could look forward to, don’t get caught up in the past”. Again, relationships appear as the subject matter in ‘Involved’, a song about being in a relationship and realising you’re not actually in love with that person any more like you used to be. In fact the only song that doesn’t seem to be about a relationship is ‘Get a Job’ which is about a thirty year old woman who has never worked as she has always lived off an inheritance and other people’s money rather than her own.
For Gossip fans this album might be a disappointment on a first artificial listen, but it’s worth getting past the fact that the sound is a little less ‘punk’ than in previous albums, as, after all, it’s still Gossip, and all the elements that we love about the band and their music are still there: Beth Ditto’s amazing vocal ability, songs that you can dance and groove to, and interesting lyrical content. A Joyful Noise has got plenty of layers of depth in terms of its subject matter, but it also feels like the sound of a band making music and having fun and not trying too hard to please. It’s the perfect soundtrack to enjoy your summer relaxation to.
Hayley Foster da Silva is a feminist, vegan, writer and radio presenter of the all female fronted show ‘Pigtails and Army Boots’. She is currently mostly playing We Rock Like Girls Don’t, Garbage and Le Monnier on the show. You can check it out here.