A GUEST POSTING FROM STRANGEWAYS
Gwenno. RiotBecki. Rosay. They are The Pipettes. Or they were The Pipettes. Well, one of them, I think, still is The Pipettes. Or maybe not.
It’s all rather complicated.
So during this Imaginary Compilation Album I’m going to concentrate on the incarnation above – best described as that terrible pop cliché the classic lineup. But I’ll also throw in a couple of respectful curveballs.
Like a lot of the 60s Girl Groups without whom…The Pipettes were, it seems, authentically, a creation. They were the joint design of one Monster Bobby – a sort of indiepop Victor Frankenstein from what I can gather – and singer Julia Clarke-Lowes. In 2003, in Brighton, they put together the band, recruiting Rose ‘Rosay’ Elinor Dougall and Rebecca ‘RiotBecki’ Stephens. Providing the brilliant Spector-inspired tunes: The Cassettes – Monster Bobby and pals – who, with respect, were essentially the three singers’ backing band.
As regards the definable We Are The Pipettes era that dominates this ICA, it didn’t last long: 2005/06, really. Perhaps the whole pouting, shape-pulling, polka-dotedeness of it all became too much. Maybe it locked-up rather than liberated. Whatever, with ill-advised confidence I predicted a 2016 reunion tour that would mark the ten years since the LP’s release. It was inevitable. And, inevitably, it didn’t happen.
So, no more Pipettes as we knew them. That first LP, though, and the b-sides that buzzed around its singles, are fantastic pop. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.
The Pipettes: The Joy of The Pipettes – an Imaginary Compilation Album.
For this ICA I’ve allowed myself four LP/singles tracks, four b-sides and those two curveballs: one from the beginning of the story, one from what appears to be the end.
1. We Are The Pipettes (We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)
The first song in this ICA was the last to be chosen for inclusion. I actually tried hard not to pick it. I thought it too obvious. But in the end I had to concede that it really is the perfect way to kick things off. The band themselves agreed: this is track 1 of the debut LP. Prior to formal introductions, a kind of spooky, spacey, voodoo-ish effect implies the group are not of this earth. And who’s to say they are?
2. I like A Boy In Uniform (School Uniform) (single, 2005)
Curveball #1. The peep of a playground whistle and off we go. This is the last word in bawdy, rocketing, gender-mangling, impertinent indiepop. The Pipettes did a Sugababes some years ago – by 2008 no original members remained – and this, the band’s first single, features founding Pip Julia Clarke-Lowes. Julia would swiftly leave to concentrate on her own band, The Indelicates, and at that point Gwenno Saunders stepped in. This first-born song is a hoot, and a real lost indiepop gem. A hundred lines if you disagree.
3. Simon Says (b-side of Judy CD single, 2006)
An S&M nursery rhyme that sounds incredibly like Sarah Records‘ heroes, Heavenly. And it shares that band’s talent for concealing the serious or provocative (have a listen to Heavenly’s disturbing Hearts & Crosses) within a froth of chiming pop. Need more evidence? Track down The Pipettes’ ‘X’-rated, high-school rock ‘n’ rollish Feminist Complaints.
4. Pull Shapes (single/We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)
“Effortlessly hits the often-attempted but rarely visited sweet spot where commerciality and credibility collide.” Who wrote that? Me. Just there. And I’m being deliberately pompous. But I think it probably does summarise Pull Shapes quite well. Surely one of those songs that, once it’s safely recorded, someone dials the record company’s Guaranteed Hits Department to report in. On that score, the single peaked at number 26. Should have topped the chart. Features a misheard lyric “There’s a hot floppy forest… ” of minor repute.
5. Judy (single/We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)
Just what did Judy do when she was older and no one wanted to know her? This is a terrific single and its worth having a look at its fun comic book-style video too. If you’ve ever invited the collective wraths of the God of Pop and the God of, well, God by wearing an upturned LP sleeve on your head and pretending you’re a bishop, you could do worse than track down a copy of a limited 7″ of Judy. Its sleeve, brilliantly, can be unfolded and worn as a skirt.
6. The Burning Ambition Of Early Diuretics (b-side of Judy single, 2006)
It’s difficult to wrench yourself from the idea of Grease-era Olivia Newton-John striding towards you when you hear this one begin. To me, this is all switchblades, pocket-dwelling metal combs and sassy gum-chomping girls. The kind that kick your head in with the lift of an eyebrow.
7. I Always Planned 2 Stay (Earth vs. The Pipettes LP track, 2010)
Curveball #2. “A great song in a crappy album” posted one YouTube user. Certainly it’s the best song on an LP whose sound is several hundred polka dots from what had gone before.
Such is the disparity that it would have been easier to admit entry to this ICA only to the first LP and the material around it. But I thought it’d be interesting to contrast the likes of School Uniform with this number.
Produced by Martin Rushent, and sung by Gwenno and the then-latest Pipette, her sister Ani, this song is so clean you could eat your dinner off it. I do like it – but then I’m a sucker for bright, poppy intros, teeth-melting choruses and sha-la-las. The finest song Lily Allen never wrote? Could be.
8. Guess Who Ran Off With The Milkman? (b-side of Pull Shapes single, 2006)
The opening shots and credits of an imaginary film always play when I hear this song beginning. Join the Pips on a desperate sprint from the gossip, gardens and garages of settled-down suburbia. Fleeing for their lives from mortgages, dogs and babies, there’s just something in the milk bottle-clutching, wide-eyed way that this is sung that indicates a terrible, doomed inevitability. This song was matched with Pull Shapes, resulting in a corker of a 7″ single.
9. Tell Me What You Want (We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)
Dramatic tempo shifts. Luscious strings. A timeless you and me – on or not? pop theme. This is the band at its most theatrical and grown-up.
10. A Winter’s Sky (We Are The Pipettes LP track, 2006)
This is just such a lovely, delicate and unusual song. It shimmers and shivers. The way it falters, stutters and rises before ending – with a comforting parp of brass and a gently ominous, Smithsy sound effect – is delightful. Probably my favourite Pipettes song – and a fine way also to close this collection.