Molly Ringwald and John Hughes: are you listening? Pitty Sing's debut LP harks back to the classic sound of the '80s new wave and post-punk without sounding too much like a clichéd tribute band performing dated material.
Pitty Sing? I know what you're thinking: it is not the most memorable name. In fact, Pitty Sing could be confused for Petty Ping. And Petty Ping might be confused for Pretty Pink. Wait a minute! It's only two degrees of separation from Pitty Sing to Pretty in Pink, the quintessential soundtrack album of the '80s. Coincidence? I think not.
One can't mistake the '80s new wave and post-punk déjà vu all over Pitty Sing's self-titled debut. However, Pitty Sing's front man, Paul Holmes, is apparently "miffed" at the insinuations that the band's songs borrow from such beloved '80s acts as Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, Psychedelic Furs, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and INXS, just to name a few. There may be some truth to that statement since all of the band's members were still in diapers when most of these '80s bands were king.
Pitty Sing is made up of four dropouts from Boston's Berklee College of Music, who all now reside in New York. Paul Holmes was born in England and relocated with his mother to the States in the early '90s. It wasn't long after he moved to Boston that Holmes hooked up with the other members of Pitty Sing, and by mid-2003 the band issued a self-titled three-song demo that kick-started a growing local and online buzz.
Pitty Sing's first full-length album will probably elicit a mixed response, depending on where one stands with the recent trend of mining AOR music of the late '70s and early '80s. Recently, bands like the Darkness have found success by playing up to the nostalgia with tongue-in-cheek fun. However, the longevity of such gimmickry is debatable. Pitty Sing doesn't quite fall into the same category, since it appears more sincere and earnest in its approach. Even though its music clearly evokes numerous comparisons to '80s bands, it does manage to retain its own unique identity. It is easy to dismiss the band at first listening, but with repeated exposure many of the anthem-like songs start to creep into your head. The single "Radio" is an exception to this rule, where its pulsating and explosive sound makes it immediately infectious. The melancholic "Fallen" is one of the album's highlights, possibility because it is one of the least genre-borrowing tunes. Considering Paul Holmes' nubile age of 21 years, he is surprisingly competent as a lyrist. As in "We're on Drugs", he demonstrates a good sense of irony: "And then it comes / When it feels like we're in love / Just remember we're on drugs". Musically, the entire band is tight, providing each track with strong rhythms and catchy guitar or keyboard riffs. The album is also blessed with solid production from Nick Seely, who is able to keep Pitty Sing's sound interesting and fresh by striking the right balance of synthesizer and guitar, and embellishes tracks with many electronic noises.
The greatest criticism one can levy against Pitty Sing is that it breaks no new ground. The material is original but not innovative. Over the course of an entire album many of the songs seem to blend together. They are catchy but not very memorable. Tracks like "Ctwyl" (is this attempt to make the phrase "We'll Change The Way You Live" sound cool!?), "Motherlover", and "Go Cry" are good examples of this. At times Pitty Sing's high ambition gets the best of the band and it ends up sounding very clichéd and calculated. Genre borrowing is a double-edged sword: it makes your music readily accessible at the risk of losing your identity.
Whether you see Pitty Sing's debut as essential or redundant will really depend on your own tastes. If you can't get enough of that '80s retro stuff, then this is the band for you. But if you have already been there and done that, then this album probably won't impress you much.
Oh yes, in case you're still curious, the band's name actually comes from an evil cat in a Flannery O'Connor short story, not a John Hughes film.