Rachel Harris-Gardiner checks out the debut album from The Pipettes, a fabulous, fun, polka-dotted girl group from Brighton.
“We are the Pipettes / And we’ve got no regrets”
Imagine a world where the Beatles never happened, where pop music evolved along a direct line from Phil Spector and all of those sha-la-la girl groups of the Fifties and Sixties. The retro lad rock revival of the Nineties is only a bad dream, girls rule the airwaves and everyone’s wearing polka dots.
Welcome to the world of The Pipettes, three twentysomething women from Brighton on a mission to transform the alternative pop scene. RiotBecki, Gwenno and Rosay have been together since last year and released a number of singles. “We Are…” is their first full-length album.
It all kicks off with the title track, the band’s theme tune, which sets their agenda and sets the tone, all swirly organs, harmony vocals and classic pop hooks. They keep up the momentum with “Pull Shapes”, their most recent single, a dizzy mix of sweet Motown-style vocals and strings, seasoned with smart punkette attitude, set at the local disco. Discos feature heavily in the band’s lyrical repertoire; The Pipettes dig dancing a great deal. Onstage, they even perform like an old-school girl group, hand-jiving behind their mic stands in co-ordinating polka dot outfits.
The band’s decision to concentrate on singing and performance, leaving the rest to all-male backing band The Cassettes, has seen them lambasted by sections of the music press and also by considerable numbers of indie pop fans. As ever with female performers, their image is scrutinised more closely than their music and they are often accused of pandering to a lecherous male audience, not being a real band at all or being pop wannabes. “They are not a girl band, they are three girls who can’t sing”, complained one NME letter writer, sadly female.
While it is undeniable that The Pipettes are firmly in touch with their femininity and do not shy away from the short on-stage skirt, their decidedly retro style and girl-next-door looks are not the mark of a cynical pop act with one mascara’d eye on an FHM photoshoot.
Their lyrical content is also refreshingly different. With the influences they wear on their sleeves (girl groups, Motown, disco), predictably, a lot of the songs are about boys. However, you won’t find Gwenno, Rosay or RiotBecki desperate to get back with a cheating partner, or carrying on about how hot’n’horny they are. Oh no. The raunchily-titled “Sex” is a tale of a girl ready for sex before her partner is, and recent single “Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me” deals with the issue of boys you don’t fancy, in a Toni Basil meets the Shirelles style. “Tell Me What You Want” is another slice of youthful wisdom, advising another boy to be assertive about his feelings and not to play games with the singer, while glockenspiels and soaring strings sing along.
Far from being empty sex sellers, The Pipettes prove themselves to be adept musical magpies and skilled pop composers. (Gwenno and Rosay both also play keyboards.)
They steal girl-group harmonies, disco strings, Motown melodies and the walking basslines and twanging guitars from the earliest kind of rock and roll. They add punk attitude and the spirit of Nineties girl-punkas like Kenickie or Charlie’s Angels and still create something distinctly their own.
But none of this should matter when you have tunes this ace. Tracks like “Judy”, a fabulous doo-wop number about a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, will have you singing along before the end of the song. “We Are The Pipettes” will stick in your head for days on end and “One Night Stand”, with its Blondie-meets-Squeeze-meets smart and sassy Brighton vibe will have you grooving like a Pipette yourself.
Only time will tell whether these ambitious young women will rewrite history like they set out to do. In the meantime, “We Are…” is a fabulous and fun listen which everyone should open their heart to.