The Pipettes - Earth vs. The Pipettes
Largely ditching the Phil Spector-isms that made their debut such a thrill, The Pipettes are back minus a few original members and with a new, sparkly image that's very much in thrall to 80s pop, especially of the Wham!/Bananarama upbeat variety.
Now, you either fall into one of two camps. Firstly, you accept an artist's career trajectory, judging each release solely on its merits and willing to accept their growth and development and, sometimes, a Primal Scream-like element of chancery that sees them flit about as fashion sees fit. Heck, David Bowie made a career out of it. The sonic chameleon or somesuch. The alternative is that you like an act for a particular reason and see no need for them to mess with the formula. Perhaps they rock better than anyone else - and if you want something to chill to, you seek out an artist who does the chill. Some artists know their strengths and stick to them.
So your reaction to Earth vs. Pipettes may well be coloured by your preconceptions. Me, I'm disappointed. It's not that it's a cynical grasp at something more commercial, a desperate grab for the coattails of the disco dollar. If anything, the girl group sound they nailed on 2006's We Are The... is one that's very much in vogue, whether it be Kate Nash or any number of other acts dropping at least one or two wall-of-sound epics into the mix. So the hop into pop is a deliberate one and has to be respected as a genuine reflection of where they want to be in 2010. The problem then is simply in the execution.
'Need A Little Time' is typical, a wedge heel of NY disco that just seems laboured, an example of trying too hard. The funky licks of 'Ain't No Talkin'' and 'Stop The Music' are nothing that Sophie Ellis Bextor doesn't knock out in her sleep and, if that's what you want, the instinct is to cling to Sophs. 'Captain Rhythm' is space glam via a 1970s Top of the Pops album, more Paper Lace than Goldfrapp. Nothing is bad but nothing says 'play me again, big boy!' either. There are still some OK moments: 'Thank You' is polished and upright, like something Tracy Ullman might have hidden away on a b-side, while 'I Always Planned To Stay' is another of their effective tales of domestic drama that sounds like it might be from early in the writing process, before they decided to leave their original format behind.
Promos for the album have been kicking about for most of this year, suggesting a degree of nervousness from the label in their failure to get it onto the market much sooner. That nervousness is with some justification for the only real gems to be found here are the ones sewn onto the sparkly new dresses. A shame.