CD Review: Beth Ditto – Beth Ditto EP

Beth Ditto
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The 1980s isn't so much a decade as it is a cultural STD. Despite being an era largely defined by it's conspicuous consumption, preference for style over substance, unchecked jingoism and the looming threat of a thermonuclear apocalypse, the 80s linger about like a bad smell in an cramped elevator. Despite two decades worth distance traces of 1980s popular culture remain highly visible. It's hyper-commercial byproducts are emblazoned on the ironic shirts of hipsters everywhere. It's flashy slogans and icons are harvested and recycled into countless internet memes. Most heinous of all it's droning synthesizers, the instrument which in my opinion best symbolizes the pop music of the decade, has become a musical Coelacanth. Surviving well beyond when it logically should have went extinct.

Admittedly issuing a blanket condemnation of both all 80s music and every song dominated by a synthesizer ever produced is beyond ridiculous. However I will firmly declare that relying heavily on those blasted Regan era relics to create even half decent music is a risky venture at best. So if you're going to do it you better make sure that your music is catchy beyond all reason. So catchy that it can override the listener's critical faculties. English synthpop maven and dub-step fodder La Roux managed to pull this off. Beth Ditto did not.

The best thing I can say about Ditto's self titled EP is that it is only four tracks long. Unfortunately that still meant I had to listen to four unimaginative and unbearably bland songs. When I first started listening to this EP I actually burst out laughing. It sounds as if someone cracked open a time capsule from 1985 and found this inside. However the novelty and amusement quickly disappeared and was replaced by building irritation. To my horror I discovered that there is no other musical accompaniment to Beth Ditto's vocals besides keyboards. Keyboards which are so uninspired that it sounds like someone edited together a couple of those pre-installed demo beats and tried to pass it off as a song. Worse still is that Ditto's vocals have been treated in post production to sound slightly more electronic. The better to match the EP's musical aesthetic. However this has the unintentional consequence of making her sound like a far crappier performer than she actually is.

In her day job, as the lead singer of the glam-punk band Gossip, Beth Ditto is actually a pretty good singer. Incidentally Gossip's music, which is also far better, occasionally includes synthesizers. However with Gossip, Ditto uses them far more effectively: as a supporting instrument to a full and competent rock band. Her decision to ignore this previous experience was a bad one. I'm not going to claim to be Gossip's biggest fan, but I will say that their music is pretty catchy. It sure as Hell doesn't make me want to dropkick my speakers out my back door.

Now I will admit as I am a heterosexual, I'm not exactly inside this album's target demographic. Ditto is herself an open lesbian and vocal proponent of LGBT rights. The lyrical content of the EP's songs, “Open Heart Surgery” in particular, is also fairly unambiguous about where Ditto draws much of her inspiration and who this EP is largely aimed at. So while it's true that I cannot totally relate to every aspect of the material, it doesn't change the truth of the matter hat this EP, on a purely musical level, is bad. The one slightly bright spot for me were Ditto's lyrics. She is a pretty good songwriter. However like every other aspect of this EP, I've heard Ditto do way better. My hope is that Beth Ditto's EP is not a harbinger of things to come. Perhaps this was just an ill-conceived exploration of a different musical genre. If this is a permanent change however then I'd implore Ditto to strongly reconsider her decision. For the audience's sake as well as hers.