What’s in a name? The history of rock and roll is littered with acts that toil under one moniker while the group’s personnel change from album to album. Enter the new Pipettes, a distaff duo that currently contains only one original member of the trio that recorded the brilliant 2006 debut We Are the Pipettes. The first incarnation of the Pipettes paid tribute to the Phil Spector-produced girl groups of the ‘60s, whose members toiled in anonymity and were often interchangeable and indistinguishable to the general public. The latest Pipettes have taken the music a decade or two further. The Pipettes are now a disco band whose sound pays homage to the music of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Welsh singer Gwenno Saunders, the only remaining Pipette from the first combo, and her sister Ani have recorded an album with Human League producer Martin Rushent. Stop the Music is a five-song-EP of tracks from their new album, with the Pipettes’ original backing band, as a teaser and have gone on tour in the UK. No one will mistake the sophisticated dance tracks from the latest issue for the old Pipettes, although one may be excused for thinking he or she is listening to Bananarama.
The five-song-EP contains two versions of the title track (one remixed by German avant-garde producer Justus Kohncke) and three other similar-sounding cuts, “So I’ll Say Goodbye”, “Our Love Was Saved by Spacemen” and “Who Made You the Doctor”. If the Pipettes’ aim was to become a club-friendly dance pop band with a cold veneer meant to hold audiences at a distance, the group has succeeded. The music pulsates with an empty heart. That’s not a dig, but a pose: the defense mechanism of those who go to hear such tunes but don’t want to have their hearts broke as they look for connections.
The Pipettes no longer are those frivolous fun girls in polka-dot dresses. That’s a shame for fans of the old band, because the old group was wonderful at it. But just like Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles went from the innocent charms of “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” to the glam rock of “Lady Marmalade, girl groups grow up and change. The songs are still about love and having a good time, yet what constitutes love and having a good time has become something different.
That’s not all. The new version of the Pipettes has lost some of the personality that made them so refreshing the first time around. Much of this is due to the style of the music, which relies more on a suave and polished sensibility to succeed, instead of the amateurish guise of the girl-group sound. The layers of production purposely stifle the individuality of the sisters from ever grabbing the listener, even when the catchy hooks start to reel one in, as on the infectious “Who Made You the Doctor” or the cosmic “Our Love Was Saved by Spacemen”.
Perhaps this EP would be more honestly labeled if it read by the Saunder sisters instead of the Pipettes, but what really matters is the music. The Pipettes have successfully evolved into an act for fans of the electronic dance rock of the ‘70s.