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The Pipettes

Memphis Industries

With the Pipettes, you’re supposed to feel in on the joke. They’re supposed to seem like a band that started with a mail-order kit: backstory about meeting at a beach party, Phil Spector–esque sound, matching polka-dot dresses. The all-girl trio’s songs may be as thin as paper dolls, but that’s the whole point. Their doo-wop beats and girl-group harmonies serve merely as facades. Emotions are as subtle as candy-colored graffiti. And those emotions concern boys in three basic archetypes: bad, pussy-whipped, perfect. Sad stuff occurs in winter. Power is in the group hug and on the dance floor. There are way too many songs set on dance floors. It’s where the title track, with its fake crowd noise, takes place. It’s the only setting for exultations such as “I like to disco!” and instructions on how to disco yourself (“Pull Shapes”). And it’s the place where heart bubbles pop above the Pipettes’ furrowed brows and coiffed heads (“Because It’s Not Love (But It’s Still a Feeling)”). On “It Hurts to See You Dance So Well,” the Pipettes mournfully declare, “I’ve got no spirit for dancing since you walked right out the door/Now all my moves are floored.” These feelings are expressed mainly in the form of shouting, Spice Girl/Bananarama style; it seems inevitable that the girls all yell “Dance! Dance!” by the album’s midpoint. That’s not to say that the album is without sweet surprises. The simple major-chord piano melody on “Dirty Mind” is catchy enough that it will inevitably end up in a Renée Zellweger montage. “One Night Stand” has bratty-sweet harmonies, and “Tell Me What You Want” is about as perfect an example of string-assisted uplift as you’ll find since the Magnetic Fields ran out of ideas. “Sex” intriguingly quotes disco and doo-wop. It is only then that you realize that for all their thrift-store pop, the Pipettes aren’t all that great at re-creating the past. The one element missing from the trio’s start-up kit is danger—something every Shangri-Las fan understands. The naughtiest bits are left to the song titles; nothing in the lyrics would make a 10-year-old blush. The songs could have used more specifics—even MySpace darling Lily Allen understands that the right details can elevate the simplest pop song. If “Dirty Mind” were about titty fucking and “Tell Me What You Want” contained a frank back-and-forth about anal sex, maybe We Are the Pipettes wouldn’t feel as if getting sullen indie fanboys onto the dance floor wasn’t punch line enough. —Jason Cherkis