Beth Ditto's Fake Sugar is an iconic feminist pop record (4 stars)

Beth Ditto's Fake Sugar is an iconic feminist pop record

Virgin Records

Ditto's on career breakthrough number three with her debut solo album

Beth Ditto has made two significant breakthroughs in her career: the first with her old band The Gossip's taut and ferociously exciting protest anthem in favour of same-sex marriage rights, Standing in the Way of Control, in 2006; the second with her very presence in rock, as a woman whose body shape didn't fit the accepted norms of pop star svelteness, yet who doubled down on her own comfort in her own skin to cathartic, inspiring effect.

Both her attitude and her most famous song were iconic and important crossover successes of the mid-2000s, yet it's fair to say The Gossip might be viewed as a one-hit wonder now. They never let their fans down, but the wider world remained largely untroubled until their split towards the end of last year. If there's any justice, this decision will be vindicated with Ditto's third major breakthrough of her career; largely (but not entirely) setting aside rock for pop, her debut solo album, Fake Sugar, recasts her as an iconic female vocalist for the 21st century.

She's been on this territory before, of course – back in 2011 with the Simian Mobile Disco-produced Beth Ditto EP – but this album is a fuller and more comprehensive piece of work. The comeback track 'Fire' opens the album, a taut and strident rocker over which Ditto commands: 'if you want my love / get up, up, up'; it gives way to 'In and Out', whose sparse but muscular lead guitar and handclaps recall Motown. Ditto's voice – more on this later – is filled with pure yearning as she sings the golden lines: 'I will love you like a millionaire / livin' on a dollar a day / money isn't everything'.

The title track is a lonesome, soulful ballad over an urgent club rhythm, whose construction is reminiscent of Everything But the Girl's 'Missing', and 'Savoir Faire' is a glistening, synthetic piece of contemporary disco-pop (the title is shared with a Chic song) upon which Ditto instructs in her couldn't-give-a-shit Arkansas drawl 'don't waste your time on a man who can't commit' – note here that she and her long-term girlfriend fulfilled the promise of 'SITWOC' when they married in 2013.

Ditto is an MOR rawk rulebreaker on 'We Could Run', which echoes The Killers – although if that suggests ordinariness, you haven't heard the note she holds on the chorus. She's a yelping, aggressive contemporary analogue of Janis Joplin on 'Oh La La', an agent of breathy bar room seduction to match Debbie Harry on 'Oh My God', the owner of a dreamy – albeit countrified – tone which echoes Kate Bush on the halcyon 'Love in Real Life', and a richer vocal double of Britney Spears on 'Do You Want Me To'. If this sounds like a grab-bag of great female vocalists employed for easy comparison, it absolutely must be noted that Ditto lives up to each parallel.

She belongs in the pantheon occupied by all the above, and it's all because of that voice; not just the striking raw power of it, but all the effervescent emotional edges which lend richness to each song. The ballads 'Lover' and 'Clouds' bring the record to a gliding halt, the finale of a commercially-focused album which foregoes 2006's shock of the new for a series of powerfully performed future standards which lend showcase to a spectacular talent.

Fake Sugar is out on Fri 16 Jun via Virgin Records.

Beth Ditto

Beth Ditto (The Gossip) cements her place as pop icon, touring her debut solo album Fake Sugar.

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