Gossip - A Joyful Noise (Columbia) 

A tired document of a clearly talented band reluctant to cut loose

Until snapping into focus with 2009's exhilarating Music for Men, flamboyant Olympia glam-dancers Gossip always seemed to be indistinctively hanging back. Curiously careful, formalist arrangements hampered their dynamic frontwoman Beth Ditto, whose breathless pulse was a free-flowing resource beyond most indie bands' wildest dreams. Sadly, these problems return on the labored, clunking A Joyful Noise.

Releasing a disco record like Men into a still-hostile environment was a gutsy move, of course, which may be a culprit for all this running for cover behind AM-radio lushness. The songs sprawl out into the Berlin textbook and rarely bite, as though they're meant to score the reflective parts of a John Hughes movie. Ditto is still a hell of a singer but can only acquit herself so much with lyrics that would've made Madonna blush in 1982. Even affable moments like the grinding opener "Melody Emergency" and the annoyingly addictive Robyn crib "Get a Job" can't do much to lighten the disheartening mood. This becomes a tired document of a clearly talented band reluctant to cut loose and enjoy themselves, making the album's title sadly ironic.

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