Note: This is not a review of new music by The Pipettes. This is a review of their 2007 United States release, “We Are the Pipettes.”
Are you sick of bands following the same cookie-cutter path from The Beatles to the Kinks to Oasis to the current crop of artists from across the pond? Do you miss the fun of musical groups like The Supremes and The Shirelles? Do you think the music world needs more positive female role models? Or do you just like pretty girls in polka dot dresses with dynamite singing voices? If you said yes to any of these questions, you should listen to Brighton’s experiment in organic, self-manufactured pop music known as The Pipettes!
Back in 2003, singer/songwriter/promoter/renaissance man Monster Bobby decided to form a group that was reminiscent of the old Phil Spector girl bands, yet with a modern attitude and twist on lyrics. According to their Manifesto, the Pipettes (pronounced pip-ettes rather than pipe-ettes, FYI) felt that too much of music today was influenced almost solely by The Beatles and subsequent sound-alikes. Mind you, it’s not that they dislike the Beatles, they just don’t think that they’re the end-all be-all of the music world. Singers Julia, Rose and Becki donned their characteristic polka-dotted dresses and became the stars of the band, with instrumentation provided by a group of backup musicians (referred to as The Cassette, and who never appear in photoshoots or interviews.) They have since enjoyed a successful independent musical career in Britain and around the world, with one major lineup change (Julia left the band in 2005 and was replaced by Welsh singer Gwenno Saunders.)
Now, on to the album!
In 2007, The Pipettes released a full-length album in the United States entitled “We Are The Pipettes,” which features new recordings of tracks from their UK album of the same name. Two of these tracks, along with two B-sides not available on the full-length album, were released as an EP entitled “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me.” I’ll review those B-sides as well, since they too can be downloaded on iTunes.
The album opens with the title track, “We Are the Pipettes,” which gives the mission statement of the band via a catchy melody and humorous lyrics. While it is a far cry from the best song on the album, it is still an enjoyable primer to the rest of the band’s catalog. If you only have time to listen to one song before your impression is made, however, I suggest you skip ahead to the second track.
“Pull Shapes” is the second track on the album, and looks to be the band’s choice for a hit. Possibly the most accessible, catchy and fun song of theirs to date, there is little not to like here. The video replicates a scene from the 1970 film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which manages to illustrate the band’s image as a blend of modern and classic sound. If you are going to listen to only one Pipettes song, make it this one. (Note: In Britain, the term “pull shapes” is roughly equivalent to the American term “bust a move.”)
If one only had their lyrics to go by, one might assume that the Pipettes are a trio of mean jerks. Songs such as “Why Did You Stay?”, “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me,” “Sex,” and “One Night Stand” would be considered misogynist if they were about men treating their lovers harshly. So would they be considered misandrist? I don’t even know what the proper word would be. Suffice it to say that these songs are wonderfully empowering for women and a breath of fresh air for listeners of both sexes. “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me” is one of my personal favorites, as much for its cheerleader-like energy as for the painful message they deliver to … whoever they’re singing to. I also enjoy their live performance of it. They even break down their dance routines (such as they are) in this instructional video. “One Night Stand” is particularly brutal to the fellas. The ladies kick their one-night-stand out of the house at 4 AM and leave him to walk home naked, but she did warn him it would happen. And if you think that is cruel, you should see what their friends do!
“ABC” and “Why Did You Stay?” are somewhat of lyrical opposites. Where “ABC” is about the singer’s unrequited love for a man too busy with his books to notice her, “Why Did You Stay?” questions a devoted boyfriend’s sanity as he stands by the singer, who couldn’t care less about him. Of the two, “ABC” is bouncier and catchier, which is probably why it received its own video.
Not every song on the album is stellar, of course. In particular, the unexpectedly dull “Tell Me What You Want” and “A Winter’s Sky” felt like filler. “Baby, Just Be Yourself” has a bit more lyrical substance, but still lacks the energy that makes the Pipettes so fun to listen to. I would have loved to see these songs replaced with the B-Sides from their EP, and may caution you to do exactly that if you are thinking of buying the songs on iTunes.
“Really That Bad” is the first B-Side, and tells of the singer’s crush on the bad boy in school. With tons of energy from the get-go, I would put this song on par with “Pull Shapes” and “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me.” “Guess Who Ran off with the Milkman!“, the second B-Side, manages to tone down the rampant pop energy without losing its charm or fun. It tells the story of a runaway bride who decides there is simply too much yet to experience, and that dogs and babies are not in the cards for her yet.
Oddly enough, The Pipettes seem to have a knack for delivering harsh, sometimes painful messages with upbeat rhythms and melodies. If I ever need to be told bad news, I’d like it to be done through a Pipettes song. That is not all they are capable of, however. “I Love You” stands out from the rest of the songs on the album as the one positive and heartfelt song that manages to bring the listener up both melodically and lyrically. It is about a couple that is far from perfect, but love each other all the more because of their imperfections. There is no official video for the song, but you can watch a rather clever fan-made video that uses clips from the Doctor Who television series.
PROS: Energetic, well-produced pop music in the style of decades past, with a modern twist.
CONS: Slower songs tend to drag. Sensitive guys may be hurt by these mean ladies’ lyrics.
RATING: 9.0 / 10.0
SOUNDS LIKE: As The Donnas are to The Ramones, The Pipettes are to The Ronettes, Crystals and Supremes.