Thursday, July 13, 2006

How to be a "modern" girl group

In a review of a show by the Pipettes, a trio of charming English women partial to matching polka-dot dresses, The Guardian writes:

"The three vocalists - one brunette, two blondes - offer a modern spin on classic girl groups: the Shangri-La's, the Marvelettes and the Chiffons." So far, so good, even though the Pipettes tunes I've heard are as unabashedly retro as a Civil War reenactment.

But then: "Their songs seem to have been blasted from a golden age of the Brill Building, Phil Spector, sugary harmonies and doo-wop - but with a contemporary, slightly feminist slant. Most concern nasty boyfriends, or boring boyfriends dumped for being 'too sweet', and there's a streak of prudity in Judy, about a girl who did 'rude things'."

That old canard again! Anybody with half an ear knows that many Brill Building songs—the biggest influence on the Pipettes—did, in fact, have a "slightly feminist slant" (something observed as early as 1989 by Charlotte Grieg in her clever book on girl groups, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?) And the Pipettes' boyfriends aren't dumped for doing too much meth or getting nasty with Lindsay Lohan, but for being "too sweet." A modern spin, indeed.


Jackson said...

Heh. It does seem like people are comparing the Pipettes to some vision of the past that they gained by watching two or three movies. The one thing that seems modern to me about them is how short their songs are (<2min is the average), like they're trying to reach for some 'no filler' musical philosophy. Of course, maybe I'm just forgetting about the really short girl group songs from back in the day.

Still, I'm amazed at how the Pipettes have caught everybody slackjawed and open-mouthed; you'd think there'd never been a girl group revival before. Does no one remember Velocette or Talulah Gosh (that was what they were going for, even if they didn't quite sound like it most of the time)?

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

You're spot on about Talulah Gosh: They did manage to modernize the Brill Building sound. They had the same spirit but didn't sound the same, whereas the Pipettes try to ape the sound. Still, I'm a sucker for bubblegum and coordinated outfits...