The Pipettes - We are the Pipettes

You know what sucks about three smoking hot British birds dressed in modish black polka-dot dresses singing early-1960s-inspired girl-group pop songs? Nothing. Absolutely nothing sucks about that. Which is why the Pipettes’ (pronounced Pip-ettes, as in that poor tortured orphan from Great Expectations or Gladys Knight and the (...)-ettes) upcoming debut album is one of the best new releases of the year. What truly works about the girl group, however, is that they rise far above the level of throwback kitsch and are not bound to the Phil Spector / Brill Building model of teenage music. In fact (and they probably don’t want to hear this), their sound is just as indebted to late 70’s acts like Blondie and ABBA as it is to the Shangri-La’s and Ronnettes. This isn’t in any way a criticism: the songs are petty much terrific across the board and the girls sing masterfully together: the album as a whole is nearly pitch-perfect.

We Are The Pipettes begins with a psychedelic Mickey-Mouse-Club-style role-call (Gwenno! Becki! Rose!) that segues into the titular track, which lays out the band’s ethos, “We’ve got no regrets…We’re the prettiest girls you ever have met,” above a driving fuzz-ified guitar line. The wonderful “Pull Shapes,” their current single across the pond and the best song on the album, is what would have happened had Carole King written a song for ABBA, and, dare I say it, could even convince the kids once again that violin / guitar based rock and roll is just as worthy of the dance floor as hip-hop. “You’re Kisses Are Wasted On Me,” the girls’ first English hit, is an ecstatic, hand-clapping type of song, and manages to balance coy girlish charm with old-school feminist calls-to-arms. The rest of the record goes through well-trodden girl band territory in a terrifically refreshing way: they discuss clean cut guys with dirty minds, the terror of going home alone after a night out dancing, and feuds with their prettier, more popular friends.

What is utterly surprising about the music the Pipettes sing is the innocence constantly underlying the bluster. Songs like “Tell Me What You Want” and “Sex” are more Frankie Valli then Karen-O. Rather than hearing balls-to-the-walls sexuality, we encounter instead wistful and upbeat harmonies and lines like “Just rest your pretty head.” I suppose this attitude separates them from the early 1960s girl bands as much as the sonic differences do. They rarely fetishize the rebellious attitudes that have caused many of the Phil Spector-penned songs to age (morally at least) so poorly. When we now listen to the Crystals sing, in earnest, “He hit me / and it felt like a kiss,” we cringe (even though it is, by all other measures, a terrific song). And there isn’t really a hint of the me-against-the-world ethos that gave bands like the Shangri-La’s their hits. Even the most throw-back song on the album, “A Winter’s Sky,” the lone ballad of the bunch, is more about teenage hopefulness then teenage loneliness.

Given the detrimental effect that England’s most famous girl band, the Spice Girls, had on our own music (thanks for inadvertently paving the way for Ashlee Simpson, girls), it might not be all that attractive for us hip Americans to give a shot to a new girl-band. But take it from an old-school pop enthusiast: these girls are the real deal, masterful singers and terrific performers. They keep one foot in the past while staring directly into the present, in three-part harmony that soars majestically over inspired orchestral pop. And you can dance to it too.

--Matthew J. Broad

Release Date: July 17, 2006

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