Escaping The Retro Train
Monday night, August 1st 2005. Iím in London again, headed up to Tuffnell Park for another night in a smoky den of iniquity, feet sticking to a floor spiked with lager and cider and black. Iím feeling way too old for this, and the mass of vintage clothing and retro haircuts makes me feel both woefully and wonderfully straight. But like Mark E said, you donít have to be strange to be strange, right? Right. Besides which, itís worth it all to see a mighty, magical band one more time.

Iím talking of course about The Pipettes, and as always they are an awesome Pop fizzbomb bursting forth with frothing melody and infectious hooks that blow kisses across the night skies, making everything alright, even if just for a moment. Which of course is one of the elemental requirements of great Pop: to transport you from the mundane and the everyday into a precious new world of sparkling, spangly sex appeal. And this, needless to say, The Pipettes manage with consummate ease.

You know it shocks me a little to realise how much I can still fall so desperately in love with this group every time I see them play, every time I play their records. And I know Iíve said it before, but I just have to keep repeating it: really, when all is said and done, what is there to NOT love about The Pipettes? Oh sure, the Serious Minded rock bores will no doubt pour scorn on their two minute Pop vignettes, equating this with a lack of depth, but of course they will be wrong. The Been-There-Seen-That hipsters will no doubt turn their backs and tell you that itís all been done before by this band and that band and blah blah blah, but they will be as wrong as they are right and will miss out on the thrill of the moment because theyíve forgotten that it doesnít really matter in the slightest because what really counts is the here and the now and the beating of my heart in wild palpitating rhythms pledging undying adoration, at least for the time it takes to draw breath and crash heartbreakingly into the next song. Plussing as which, you always need to put your faith in any band that inspires you to write long run on sentences where all the punctuation and grammar dissolves under the need to just attempt to communicate the passion that pulses down your veins, threatening to explode out of every pore of your body with electric flashes of pure light and energising delight. Even (especially) if you fail miserably in that attempt.

And besides, The Pipettes are so clearly NOT any retro obsessed outfit, but are rather a deliciously playful band of alarmingly contemporary appeal who just happen to understand that the nature of Pop in the 21st Century is one of a natural coalition of history, both in terms of style and sound. The key though to rising above mere formulaic re-enactment of previous styles is an ability to inject that mixture with a wit and a sense of the Now that canít be escaped. So the Pipettes take their Shangri-Las songs about teenage obsessions (ĎReally That Badí, ĎJudyí) and filter them with a feeling of modernity that reeks of contemporary English comprehensives (or at the very least of Ď80s/í90s Grange Hill) rather than Ď50s Happy Days High Schools; the true magic being that you canít quite pin down how they do this. The Pipettes sing songs about Dirty Minds and One Night Stands, about kisses being wasted on them and about how what they are feeling might be lust, but is most assuredly not love. The Pipettes are standing proud and shouting loud about the joys of being young and free to explore their world and about how it means to be a woman without banging on about what it means to be A Woman; are a most deliciously contemporary Pop band fuelled in equal parts by Riot Grrrl personal politics, Shangri-Laís melodrama and Pure Manufactured Pop. Quite simply they are the most magnificent band around at the moment and I love them with every fibre of my being.

Which is why itís so galling that they are on a bill below The Priscillas, who by distinct contrast, are all (and crucially, ONLY) retro rockíníroll poise and noise, bereft of anything remotely intriguing. They are so obviously lacking in originality that I struggle to even raise enough energy to say that I hate them and their set, and hope they never sully my life ever again. Indeed I might have said the same about headliners the 5,6,7,8s if I had bothered to hang around for their set; but I didnít, and so I canít. Others have suggested that they sounded like a rockabilly ESG, which I have to admit I find to be quite an alarming thought. Not that I have anything against rockabilly per se, and naturally (like all the hipsters, it seems) I love ESG dearly, itís just that I have a feeling that the 5,6,7,8s are something of a one-trick pony, and that whilst that concept in itself doesnít bother me in the slightest, itís kind of a problem when that one trick leaves you cold.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett

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