Line-up changes can be awkward for any band. but when the band in question hangs its appeal on three joint frontwomen and two leave in one go, it’s particularly dicey. But that’s the situation with The Pipettes: Rosie has left to work solo, reportedly after getting fed-up with the extensive touring of America the band did last year, while Becki was reportedly kicked out for being a pain in the arse. This means, technically, that none of the original line-up are left: sole surviver Gwenno was herself a replacement, albeit very early in the band’s existence (my first Pipettes show was also hers) – so the group that recorded the first album should, I posit, be called the “classic line-up” rather than the “original” one.
Anyway, what difference, if any, will new Pipettes Ani and Anna make? The question was answered during the band’s residence at the wretched city-centre branch of The Fly; I made it down on Tuesday September 2nd. The basic answer has to be: the dancing is a bit tighter, and the singing a bit less so – net result is that the band remain enormously enjoyable.
The other big difference is in the new material, of which there is buckets: in short, the band seem to have zoomed from 1962 to 1977, and gone substantially disco / pop. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: Anna is a co-writer of the Sugababes’ forthcoming single and had an electro / dance solo project going before joining the group, as did (and, I think, does) Gwenno, whose sister is… Ani! As well as disco, there is reggae and later Motown thrown into the mix in the new sound: it is recognisably the same band, but the shift is also clear. The new material is all good, but some is downright excellent: song selection is going to be the key to the success or failure of the second album, but they certainly seem to have the material to make it an excellent record.
Old material is also nicely in evidence, alternating with new ones for the first twenty minutes before being relegated to the occasional old favourite: predictably, the old ones – It’s Not Love, Dirty Mind, Pull Shapes, Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me – are the ones that the crowd go mad for, although by the end the newer ones seem capable of whipping up equal enthusiasm. Ani bravely sings Judy pretty faultlessly without any rehearsal at all, ever, while the only time the old material seems to be let down by the new line-up is on Tell Me What You Want, where Anna doesn’t quite cut it on lead vocals. I was surprised to find myself thinking back to how the old line-up used to do it during the old material; it dawns on me I must have seen them quite a lot of times (top-of-the-head count: at least seven).
All told, the show reassured all present that The Pipettes will continue bringing fun, harmonies and polka dots to the masses for a good while yet. Roll on the second album – I dare them to open it with a track called “We Are The Pipettes (Arguably)”. But I’m sure they won’t.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering why my picture is bizarrely split in two halves… I have no idea, that’s just how it came out of my phone.