Arts & Entertainment
3 min

CD reviews: The Pipettes and Jim Noir

North & south: Two different sounds from the UK

TOWERING POP. Jim Noir's debut Tower Of Love is totally unique.

The Pipettes are a girl trio from Brighton, UK. Gwenno, Rose and Riot Becky are being touted as a new modern feminist twist on man-obsessed 1960s girl groups. Promoter Monster Bobby wanted to revive the inventive sounds of legendary record producer Phil Spector. On We Are The Pipettes (the group’s debut album, out as an import release on Thu, Aug 17), Bobby doesn’t even come close to the grandiose scale of the Spector classics. But the album does have its charms.

Sure it echoes the girl-group style but it has more in common with Tracey Ullman or, say, Bananarama productions from the 1980s. Producers Andy Dragazis and, more importantly, Gaz Parton (producer of the lovely chaotic group, The Go Team!) give the album a peppy energy.

The lyrical content has some amusing moments. But the lyrics are not as multilayered as a lot of the original girl-group songs that the writers think they’re surpassing. There are no complex emotions like you get from The Ronettes’ “I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine” or Reparata And The Delrons’ “Saturday Night Didn’t Happen.” The Pipettes aren’t so much the new Shangri-Las as they’re the new Spice Girls.

On the opening track, “We Are The Pipettes,” (it’s their “Spice Up Your Life” with a touch of Toni Basil’s “Micky”), the girls sing like cheerleaders from the wrong side of the tracks. They may sing tough but you can smell the crowd-pleasing, cotton-candy lip gloss all over it. Space-age organs, robotic drumbeats and blips and bleeps happily skip and jump to the girls’ proclamations. “We are The Pipettes/ And we got no regrets/ If you haven’t noticed yet/ We’re the prettiest girls you’ve ever met.”

“Pull Shapes” has number one hit all over it. Grandma and the grandkids will enjoy dancing to it as much as an American Apparel-clad scenester. The song begins with a slew of programmed violins, handclaps and kid-show drumming. It’s a tad static for my taste but it’s damn close to pure pop heaven. The girls sing about nothing but the joy of dancing with a “pretty boy.” It’s very cute. “Pull Shapes/ I lead with my left hand/ I start with the right foot/ Well, I just want to freak out/ I just want to move/ I don’t care what the song’s about.”

As infectious as this album may seem, there’s something so premeditated and one dimensional about it. After continual listens, the album, save for a few tracks, just feels astringent and uninspired.

Despite professing a love for the girl-group genre, the band and album producers just don’t get it. There’s nothing wrong with being weak, needy, alone, scared and deeply sad. There are indeed other human emotions besides having fun and being in control of a situation. It doesn’t always have to be girl empowerment. That’s what made songs like The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)” and Sandy Posey’s “Hey Mister” so rich and deep. They get you to the core. You are hypnotized by the sheer audacity by which the performer and the words transport you.

Tower Of Love is the debut album from Manchester-based Jim Noir. It’s a little Beach Boys harmonies here, Super Furry Animals instrumental kookiness there. It seeps DIY geekiness as the obvious influences fly chaotically through the album. But Noir has an infectious spirit that manages to be melancholy and violently happy at the exact same time. He’s in control and edits every element to perfection. He’s slick but there are off-kilter moments that make the album a very special thing.

“Computer Song” is a perfect example of Noir’s impressive skills as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. It’s just him and his guitar as he sings, “The moment I switch you on/ You sing your song/ And I know it won’t be long/ Until you’re going wrong/ And you make me cry/ And I don’t know why.” The song slowly builds with multitracked backing vocals and a comforting throbbing bass line. Lovely.

Ship horns blow on the lacey and delicate “How To Be So Real.” The song is so atmospheric, it takes you to a dreamy cerebral place where Noir’s silken falsetto harmonies caress the creepy electronic sounds, acoustic strumming and oh so pretty flutes. He sings, “If you have enough to spend/ You won’t have to lend/ These are things that make you feel/ How to be so real.”

With Tower Of Love, Noir proves he’s one to watch. It’s hard to come off totally unique nowadays but he pulls it off effortlessly. The album is utterly hypnotic.