Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar Review

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Beth Ditto: <i>Fake Sugar</i> Review

Beth Ditto is a presence: she makes that known for damn sure. Ever since her dance-infused punk trio Gossip surfaced in 1999, it’s been near impossible to forget the singer/songwriter.

As a self-described “fat, feminist, lesbian,” Ditto’s voice has been bold and necessary when it comes to body politics, and LGBTQ and human rights. Her powerhouse vocals, wingtip eyeshadow and curve-hugging dresses have made her iconic not just in music, but in the fashion world as well. Ditto’s unapologetic style has made her an icon on and off the runway and led her to creating a plus-sized fashion line with Evans that’s as funky and charming as the designer herself.

For 17 years, Ditto served as Gossip’s leader, but last year, the band parted ways, and she took this as an opportunity to go solo. Back in 2011, we got our first taste of what that would look like in the form of a self-titled EP. And that disco-heavy venture felt like a natural transition following the plethora of glimmering, rhythmic pop cuts she’d be in charge of over the years. But with Ditto’s debut album, Fake Sugar, she seems to connect with herself on a deeper level. While there are still elements of dance-pop weaved throughout the record, the album falls more comfortably between honky-tonk, soul and disco. The end of Gossip’s run became the beginning of Ditto’s path to creative free reign.

The new album feels like Ditto’s aural memoir. The 36-year-old already revealed her candor in her 2012 memoir Coal To Diamonds, which brought out the person behind her bubbly stage persona: the woman who grew up in an impoverished Southern Baptist household who escaped to join the Riot Grrl movement. Fake Sugar picks up where her book left off. It bridges the gap between love and loss and taps into her Southern roots to create a record that fully encompasses the person she’s become.

On “Fire,” the album’s lead single, Ditto uses booming guitars and her raspy, gospel-fueled vocals to make an entrance, crooning, “Bless my soul, that’s the way it is.” It’s a commanding opener that represents her essence: a fiery, free spirit who left her upbringing only to find common ground with it as she grew up. Vacillating between soulful country (“Oh My God”) and vintage pop (“In and Out”) and anthemic ‘80s-tinged love songs (“We Could Run”), Ditto finds no limits to hold her power and voice in. She uses this album to show where’s come from and how she’s changed along the way, balancing the grit and the glitter, combining her glammed up exterior with the fierce combo Riot Grrrl and country girl in her heart.