What worked about the Pipettes’s debut record, We Are the Pipettes!, was how they took their ‘50s- and ‘60s-era girl group gimmick and infused it with a contemporary point of view and production sheen. If not as artistically rich as Amy Winehouse, the Pipettes at least appeared to be onto a similar notion of how to mine a retro aesthetic. A slew of lineup changes later, and the Pipettes have returned with Earth vs. the Pipettes, an album that jettisons pretty well everything that was noteworthy about the group’s debut and co-opts the same stale ‘80s-era dance influences that countless other acts have been running into the ground over the last two years.
The shift in the Pipettes’s decade of choice isn’t the problem in and of itself; it’s that this batch of songs doesn’t make much of an effort to bring a modern perspective to their otherwise dated sound. Robert “Monster Bobby” Barry is still the man behind the curtain in terms of its songwriting and production, but the album suggests that his ear for the songs of the Ronettes and the Chiffons was much stronger than his ear for Stacey Q and Bananarama. Album Opener “Call Me” hinges on some particularly vapid come-ons (“Call me if you ever get lonely, baby/Call me if you feel like wasting some time/Call me if you see something interesting/Call me any time you like”), while “I Vibe You” sounds like a long-lost Exposé single.
The album’s supposed concept is a complete non-starter, with sci-fi imagery coming into play only on “Our Love Was Saved by Spacemen,” a flat-out stupid narrative about how it takes an alien abduction to save a doomed relationship (“He played me for a fool/Until that day those Martians came”). It doesn’t work on its own merits at all, and it’s simply too half-assed a conceit to scan as ironic, so all that’s left is a bit of ‘80s post-disco dance-pop. As was the case with so many of the singles from that era, Earth vs. the Pipettes wants for real personality and warmth. On singles like “Pull Shapes” and “ABC,” the Pipettes sang with verve and swagger, but they sound completely detached on “Stop the Music” and “Captain Rhythm.”
The group’s lineup changes are at least partially to blame for this: Only Gwenno Saunders returns from We Are the Pipettes!, this time joined only by her younger sister, Ani. But the poor quality of the songs is ultimately the greater issue. “From Today” and “I Need a Little Time” may have decent enough hooks and propulsive dance beats, but there’s simply nothing about Earth vs. the Pipettes that’s distinctive or in any way better than what other ‘80s revivalists have already done.