Earth vs. the Pipettes (2010) ***1/2
Only one of the girls who'd sung on Meet the Pipettes is still on board, but that's not the major change: they've ditched the girl group sound. No longer do they want to be the Shangri-La's, but are intent on vibing like they're Rose Royce at a car-wash disco circa 1978. Only svengali Phil Spector-cum-Malcolm McLaren wannabe Monster Bobby is still masterminding the pretty marionettes behind the veil of sunglass shades. The change in sound creates a major problem: who the hell needs this? Aren't there already a jillion Spice Girl wannabes riding the post-disco, post-Madonna slutwave that's dominated modern Top 40 since 1985? One step forward into modernism equals a step forward into genericism. Luckily, if you sadly resign yourself to what you're getting (and for anyone who was a fan of the first album, oh brother it's going to be a difficult transition to adjust to), what you get amounts to an excellent modern-day pop album. The melodies are still intact, aren't they? You can still sing along to all these tunes, and even get a few lodged in your head, right? You can dance to it? Decidedly yes. What more should you expect from commercial pop product? Some innovation? A little emotional heft? Oh shut up, my inner nagging naysayer grumpuss.
Problem #2: the lyrics are nothing special, and considering that the lyrical content constituted half the hooks on the debut, the lack of edgy missives from the gender wars is a serious hobble. Aside from some generic bitchy-isms like "Our love is history," and "You've been running around all over town," (yes, seriously, the lyrics are that cliched), there's no edge to their bite. The songs all cover predictable romance'n'dance fare, the bubbleheaded discoapist travails of the modern high-heeled, plastic-jewelry encrusted, puffed-hair guidette. Yeah, I know they don't have guidettes in England, but see, that's another problem, the Englishness is gone, too - you can still detect the accents from time to time, but there's another casualty of transatlantic generica.
When people argue over whether lyrics or music are more important, they're making the mistake of looking at music-creating in far too binary of a manner. Lyrics are certainly one element that's important in a well-constructed song in the popular music form, along with rhythm, arrangement, vocals, chord progression, melody, etc. One element that is vital is the hook. Now what is a hook? A hook can be defined as something that makes you remember the song; a piece of the song that can occur once or several times that enables the song to lodge into your brain. The point I'm making is that lyrics can equally serve as hooks just as well as melody lines or drum beats. So, by downgrading the lyrics on their second album, the Pipettes have thrown out a massive databank of hooks, a source that served them so well on the first album. Where are the twists and turns to these curves? Have I mentioned that the girls look a lot uglier in their current incarnation? Since they were hired mostly for their visual not musical appeal, it's fair game for sexist commentary. And oh, how I miss the sexist commentary of the original girl-group Pipettes. This is a catchy, solidly tuneful and danceable disco-pop album if you like that sort of thing. Do I ever wish to hear it again? No. But I don't want to look like a snobbish hypocrite for completely writing it off just because it's in a genre I don't like. In other words, the numerical rankings are just a rough, rough shorthand; actually read the reviews if you want to know what a record's about.
P.S. One more point about how lyrics can ruin/elevate the music: "Our Love Was Saved By a Spaceman," is by far the worst track, and guess why?