Wednesday, December 6

Album Review: The Pipettes

“We Are The Pipettes”
Memphis Industries; 2006

Every musician borrows tricks from those who influenced them, and oftentimes it’s apparent: Oasis and the Beatles; Electric Six and the cheese-ball 80’s; Jakob Dylan and Bob Dylan. Artists who exaggerate their influences risk being labeled a follower that lacks any sense of creativity or aesthetic, a mutant carbon copy of the idols he strives to be. But the exceptions, though rare, arrange their influences in a tasteful new way; the Pipettes deliver one of those refreshing exceptions.

The Pipettes’ debut album “We Are the Pipettes” is the most feel-good album of the year. It starts with a short, spacey noise tease before opening up to the first of 14 shameless two-minute pop songs. The Pipettes have clearly dabbled equally in the a range of music: the high school sweethearts of the 50’s and early 60’s (The Ronettes); the psychedelic 60’s (Brian Wilson); 70’s disco; and quasi-cheesy 80’s arena pop (Cindy Lauper). It’s nearly perfect pop music – eagerly dancy with infectious melodies and countless surprises. The lyrics are sometimes trite (“you used to tell me that loved me every day / I didn’t know what to say”), but the Pipettes biting delivery compensates. Even with the prettiest lyrics, these girls can sound more sarcastic than Lily Allen.

“We Are The Pipettes” opens with the first of many 80’s “Mickey” drum beats on the album, with massive reverb and psychedelic cheerleader vocals. They introduce themselves bluntly: “We are the Pipettes / And we’ve got no regrets / if you haven’t noticed yet / we’re the prettiest girls you’ve ever met.” Yes. They. Are. Each Pipette (there are three) has a place in the mix – left, right, and middle. To complement the vocals, a fantastic backing band layers piano, synth, and most impressively, wild string arrangements, which keep the music continually surprising. The bass and drums are always anxious, but manage to keep it all perfectly together.

Songs like “Pull Shapes” make a sit-on-the-couch-and-soak-in-the-drink-and-music man like me dance. It’s essentially an early 60’s Frankie Valli hit with a hint of disco. The verse chords feel like a drive-thru burger joint, the chorus forces your body to move, and the sarcastic strings and horns swell with conviction. It’s unabashedly poppy. They even pull off sampling a cheering crowd, which is risky, but it works.

The first 15 seconds of “Dirty Mind” deliver yet another unforgettable melody with some enticing lyrics: “She’s got a dirty mind / just don’t know what you’re gonna find.” Nope, but I’d like to find out. The simple drumbeat is played with attitude, and a drunken, rambling piano sets the foundation for horn swells and a wall of three-point vocal counterpoint that would surely be the highlight of a live show.

“A Winter’s Sky” is the only ballad, and consequently the prettiest song, on the album. The party attitude is stripped away from the vocalists, the recording is clean, and the mellow strings and French horn make the vocals shine. Not the ones to keep things ordinary, though, a few short clips of spring reverb appear sporadically throughout the tune, making it just imperfect enough not to be shrugged off and forgotten as just another ballad.

The Pipettes have in some cases improved upon the original artists they recall. In others, they understand what components make it so great, and use them. The Pipettes are musical alchemists. They’ve made gold with the perfect proportion of elements from an array of influences. Some might say it’s already been done. Those people have not heard this album.

The Pipettes - Pull Shapes
The Pipettes - Dirty Mind
The Pipettes - A Winter’s Sky

- Austin Bauer -

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