It can be difficult to describe singer-songwriter Beth Ditto’s voice without lapsing into hyperbole; her wonderfully versatile voice can impart anger, pride and tenderness, often within the same song. With her debut solo album Fake Sugar, the former Gossip front woman, fashion designer (seriously) and self-described “fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas” has created an album of shimmering, catchy pop songs that may not only be the best record of the summer, but one that will surely top critical best-of lists at the end of 2017.
Ditto’s main gig as front woman of queer punk rock band the Gossip has prepared her well for alternative pop stardom; from 2001 until its split in 2012, the trio released several critically acclaimed albums that also resonated with fans worldwide. Several of Gossip’s most memorable tracks drew from blues-rock, alternative pop, and punk—on Fake Sugar, Ditto admirably continues that legacy while experimenting with some new sounds.
If you come to Fake Sugar as a confirmed Ditto fan and are expecting a heavily electronica-influenced sound that’s similar to her 2011 self-titled EP, you might be a little disappointed, but you are equally likely to be won over by Ditto’s musical explorations.
Lead single and first track “Fire” is a standout; Ditto uses her voice sparingly here and lets the song’s memorable guitar line do most of the work. Tinged with harmonica, “Fire” is a dance-pop song that is both retro and forward-looking, and beautifully shows off Ditto’s classically bluesy croon in a new way. “Fire” isn’t the only great song on Fake Sugar, thankfully. “In and Out” chronicles the ups and downs of a relationship with a bass line for the ages.
Notably, Fake Sugar does not have a middle-of-the-album slump; Ditto wisely chose to sequence some of the album’s best tracks where most artists would front or back-load their albums. The four-punch (!) of the gorgeous ballad “We Could Run” Franglais-influenced “Ooh La La,” the hyped-up “Go Baby Go,” and the extremely danceable love/lust anthem “Oh My God” add up to alternative pop gold. Ditto has absolutely earned the critical and fannish acclaim that has distinguished her indie pop career; to see (and hear) her come into her own as an alternative pop songwriter, singer, and composer is a treat for longtime fans. Fake Sugar’s successful melding of pop, rock and vintage blues will hopefully gain Ditto some new fans—and a place in pop music’s patheon of greats.