Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar [Virgin, 2017]
The unsinging hero of this solo debut is a song doctor I'd never heard of named Jennifer Dicelvio, whose big credit is too big--the bombastic Andra Day Grammy nominee "Rise Up." Always drawn to Ditto's punky fat-lesbian image, I never thought her band was much or her songwriting either. So I make it a good thing that at 36 she's gone both solo and pop, and with Dicelvio's help delivered what pop albums are supposed to deliver, only with guitars rather than keyboards--well-defined tunes with relatable lyrics that get where they're going without distracting shows of the pipes I'm grateful she doesn't have. People think her voice is huge, but that's really her energy, or maybe just how bold she is about her body. Here her most salient vocal quality is a clarity that never thins out her commitment or understates her joy and pain. The pain, I read, reflects a bad patch in her marriage. May she outlast it to enjoy the perfect confluence of "We Could Run" and "Love in Real Life." A-