An email to a friend
I got the Wire DVD in the mail this weekend. Glad you liked it. It's remarkable for a bunch of reasons, but the transformations undergone by the songs that'd eventually end up on 154 amaze on every viewing. It's not that skeletons of songs become fleshed-out bodies during recording, and it's not lead becomes gold either. So subtle it's hard to put a finger on it really, but the best I can do is the rendering of plants and oils into perfume. The more I listen, the more I think those guys were every bit the equal of anyone, the saints in relief in the eaves of the church included. I keep trying to punch holes in this opinion and the awl keeps bouncing back.
So, anyway, I know I said I'd write something for SYF about the Pipettes, who, by the way, I can't believe you don't adore. If any band has lived up to your "fuck meaning, let's dance" motto, it's them (or maybe I'm being fooled). And they get that dancing-as-sublimated-sex and actual sex-as different but equally relevant pleasures thing exactly right. You just don't see that done well very often, even in this era of dancin'-punk revival (and maybe that's why I don't find much of it particularly compelling). As much I'd like to do a full deal on them, our peers seem to have fully digested these Pipettes (especially that link you sent from cokemachineglow). In that, Newell calls out the Svengali thing they seem almost too eager to evoke with the Phil Spector name drops and the anonymous male Cassettes toiling in the background. He also gets at the girl-on-girl undertones in "Judy"... since my girl-group is so bad, I don't know if that's an evocation of a long history of side-glancing girl-love songs or if it's the Pipettes being oddlly and somewhat uncomfortably coy. Those were both of my barrels and people have had that to ponder for more than a month already.
But, as you are a captive audience, I can't help but share some other stuff that floats through my head.
1) You asked me what I thought was punk about them. I'm not sure what the budget for We Are the Pipettes was, but it either has, or was crafted to feel like it had, a homemade feel. Pocket symphonies, yes, but the singers and orchestra didn't have time to get the perfect take. You can't make a punk album this lush and worked over, but a) the technical imperfections and b) the duality of the traditionally innocent girl-group surface with against-type content aren't so dissimilar from some of the things Wire were trying to do. There's some punk throughline there.
2) The eMusic review brings up Heavenly as a touchstone, which I think has some merit. The Decline and Fall of Heavenly is chock full of love for the same source material the Pipettes are working from. Such a great album, that. But I doubt Heavenly is source material itself. Too bitter. The lyrical big sister I hear is Justine Frischmann, "Stutter" specifically.
Skipjack - Heavenly
Itchy Chin - Heavenly
Stutter - Elastica
3) The intro of a song called "Sex" quoting the oh-so-quoted start of "Be My Baby" (and thus "Just Like Honey" and countless others) as if to say: "Ok, we're finally getting down to brass tacks here." So much fun.
4) In terms of a sort of amateurish-ness heightening the intensity of highly performative music (which seems like a contradiction but ain't), I can't help but think of what's going on in Haut Bas Fragile. The Rosenbaum piece really hits its stride in the latter portion. I know you thumb your nose at him, but there's gold half way through: "... what Rivette has that his American critical and directorial counterparts often lack is a poetic and abstract appreciation of what that [technical and musical expertise] yields and what that glory consists of, especially in relation to everyday life--an appreciation of the dialectic between reality and fantasy... " The Pipettes are definitely dancing all over this reality v. fantasy thing but I've yet to make out the exact step. Fun to think about, tho. And the relationship of these appealing "amateur" acts to karoke is a topic for discussion when we get together for a beer some time.
5) A pure lark: Is the protagonist of "Don't Mug Yourself" sweating over Ms. "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me"? One a reaction to the other?
So, that's what I got. Obviously not interesting enough for a post, but at least you know I tried. Maybe I'll get around to that Elliott Smith/Sinead O'Connor thing one of these days. That should only take me a year or so to write.
PS: Thanks for the Towers of London. Really, has something passed us by?