Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The Pipettes - We are the Pipettes
We are the Pipettes (2006) ****
(Originally I assigned this album a 5 star rating. What the %$^# was I thinking?!)
One of the great discoveries of the post-feminist age is that men and women's desires and attitudes towards love and sex are not that dissimilar, that we share more in common than not in what we look for and want from the opposite sex. If this review is going to focus more on the lyrics than the music, then so be it: the lyrical subject matter is the novelty hook of this record, not that there isn't plenty of meat in terms of top-notch tunes and groovy grooves found therein. The concept is simple: update the Phil Spector girl-group sound with a contemporary post-rrriot grrrl, post-Sex and the City perspective. Thus, the boys (and they are all boys) run the gamut from louts to buffoons, with specialized sneering at wimpy sensitive types ("he knows ABC but he doesn't know how to please me," which is actually the dumbest and weakest song on the disc), especially those who expect love in return after being just used for sex and callously tossed out onto the streets the morning after ("One Night Stand," is such a mean sentiment, and one that would have PC critics up in arms if sung by a guy). In other words, the sound may be retro, but the attitude is pure 2006, and the music itself evades the fossilized stench of overly-retro by furnishing the songs with big, booming modern production values - it sounds like a record released in 2006, not 1966.
As you can see from the cover, there are three girls in the group, but since in girl group tradition they sing in unison or harmony, their individual voices aren't that important. There are four boys in the group, too, playing all the instruments as the backing band called the Cassettes, but nobody cared who played the drum snares on the Ronettes' "Be My Little Baby," either. Rumor has it that they were brought together by a behind the scenes svengali named Bobby Monster, who recruited the three frontwomen for their photogenic not musical qualities, and who may or may not have written all the tunes. Who knows?, as all the songs are simply credited to 'The Pipettes'. Never matter; criticism that they are calculated and manufactured may have merit, but is beside the point. So were lots of great pop groups from Motown to the Sex Pistols, and this is great pop, which trumps all. With the exception of "ABC" there aren't any misfires in this 14-strong batch; due to advancements in the modern assembly line of production of ready-made pop, this is much more consistent than any of the classic soul or disco albums that the Pipettes draw their inspiration from. Heck, did the Marvellettes or Pointer Sisters ever record an album of all good songs that wasn't entitled Greatest Hits? This was an actual hit album in their native U.K. (they don't bother to hide their accents, which sound exotically sexy to this Yank's ear but probably sound as unsexy as the bird down the corner shop to their countrymen), and best of all, it's performed in a style of mainstream pop that hasn't been mainstream in nearly half a century. Is there some law that all modern Top 40 pop has to be performed in a post-disco, post-Madonna technodazzle groove? Not that there's anything wrong with the style, but it's sort of fascist that all Top 40 for the past 30 years has to sound like the Black Eyed Peas and American Idol. Bite it, Spice Girls.
OK, so I miscalculated - there are precisely two songs that don't work, as the opener is kind of annoyingly hectoring, but it's an easily ignored, campy throwaway. The single, "Pull Shapes," is actually one of the lesser tunes. "Why Did You Stay?" answers the eternal question of will you still love me tomorrow - in the negative. "Dirty Mind" sounds too close to Maxine Nightingale's disco-era classic "Right Back Where We Started From" for comfort. "It Hurts To See You Dance So Well," gets me out on the floor; "Judy," buries the hatchet with an alpha-female; "A Winter's Sky," is the obligatory heart-tugging slow-dance ballad; and "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me," is more of a chant than a tune but it's a well-aimed chant. "Tell Me What You Want," wounds me and probably a lot of other guys, since I've met eyes with a girl more than a few times and been overly hesitant; sung from the girl's point of view, she demands to know when the guy is going to stop dithering around and make his move. "Because It's Not Love (But It's Still a Feeling)" - the title needs no further explication. "Sex," is about getting straight to the point because I don't really care much for your boring conversation, just rest your pretty head and shut up, love. Like I said, the claws would be out if the gender roles in some of these songs were reversed! I've already mentioned "One Night Stand," and "ABC," and you know what? Smart guys don't like dating dumb girls, either, so there! "I Love You," ends the album on a self-consciously unironic, sincere note, the title of which spells out the banal but heartfelt sentiments enclosed. There, that about covers it, all fourteen songs. Sure, it's disposable froth with an edge, but so are cyanide-laced butterscotch milkshakes.