Earth Vs. The Pipettes

The Pipettes

Fortuna POP!, 2010

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso


When the Pipettes burst onto the pop scene with their adorable look and addictive songs, it looked as if they had found a winning formula, playing infectious retro girl-pop accompanied by a great look and fun dance moves. Unfortunately, after merely one album of pure pop glory, the group gradually began to splinter. The boys playing the instruments remain mostly the same; however, with the ladies in front, it’s an entirely different story. The two remaining original frontwomen, RiotBecki and Rosay, both left the group. Replacing them proved to be rather difficult, and after several more lineup changes, they finally settled on the duo of Gwenno Saunders and her sister Ani.

For this record, The Pipettes teamed up with producer Martin Rushent, and his influence is all over. He brings them right out of the ‘60s and into the ‘80s, but therein lies the problem. Everybody is doing ‘80s retro these days; it’s the hip thing. By going this route, The Pipettes have sacrificed much of what made them stand from their contemporaries in the first place. You expect a certain amount of gloss in pop music, but this album is so sleek you can see your reflection in it; every inch is filled with synths, vocals, strings, and more synths – it’s overkill to say the least. The different components come together poorly and result in the album sounding cluttered and overproduced.

By far my biggest issue with the production is with what should be the band’s strongest suit: the vocals. On their debut, you could pick out each girl’s part on every song, and they always kept to three-part harmonies, rarely singing more than they could pull off onstage. However, here they’ve run mad with vocal overdubs. Despite having one less singer at their disposal, each track sounds like it was sung by a whole room of Pipettes instead of just two. This sucks a huge amount of personality out of the vocals. The lead parts sound like themselves, but the swathes of backing vocals could be anybody singing and it wouldn’t make any difference. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Speaking of the lead vocals, it pains me to say this but new singer Ani really isn’t particularly good. Her voice isn’t powerful, her tone is awkward, and she pales in comparison to her sister. Additionally, her vocal parts are treated with effects much more then Gwenno’s are, this seems to be an attempt at making them sound fuller and more fleshed out but it doesn’t work. To be honest, even though it would have meant less variation on an already pretty uniform album, I would have preferred it if Gwenno had just sang all the songs on her own. Even the lyrics are a complete non-entity here. The first album practically overflowed with brilliant lyrical anecdotes, snide comments, and silly turns of phrase with each girl’s personality shining through whenever they took a line. There is absolutely none of that here. The closest they get is a story about being abducted by aliens on “Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen,” but believe me it’s not as interesting as you might think. Every other song is just one generic love lyric after another.

Of course, all of that doesn’t really matter if they can bring great songs to the table, and they do to an extent. While few tracks come close to equaling the dizzying pop highs of We Are The Pipettes, most of these songs are fun, catchy, and solidly written. Lead single “Stop The Music” is an outstanding display of pop songwriting, and one of the moments on the album when the production actually works in favor of the song instead of against it. Elsewhere, the strongest points seem to come when the band sticks closest to their old style: “Ain’t No Talking,” “Thank You,” and “History” in particular are bouncy and will stick in your head for days. Unfortunately, the quality only stays consistent through the first half, and the songwriting near the album’s end gets increasingly patchy. Album closer “From Today” is most certainly the worst song they’ve come up with to date; it’s plodding and hookless, and it ends the album on a major downer. By far the most bothersome thing about the weaker tracks is that they didn’t even have to be there at all; the B-sides of the singles that the Pipettes have released so far have, for the most part, all been at least as good as the average album tracks. Why couldn’t those songs have been on the album instead?

In general, Earth Vs The Pipettes is a fun and enjoyable album, but it’s very rarely more than that. If you go into this album expecting We Are The Pipettes Volume 2 you’re bound to be disappointed. It doesn’t have the staying power of their debut and it doesn’t present a particularly fresh approach. But if all you require are some catchy danceable tunes, then this record will most definitely fit the bill. In their search for a new sound to go with their new lineup, the band has lost most of their identity. Here’s hoping they can find it again by the time their third album comes out.

Rating: B-

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© 2010 Ken DiTomaso and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fortuna POP!, and is used for informational purposes only.