Girl groups have always been more subversive than they appear, from the Phil Spector-produced efforts of the early ’60s boosting African-American teens from housing projects into Top 40 radio to the double-agents in Bananarama bringing post-punk flavor to the masses while forcing new wavers to confront mainstream pop. Brighton, England’s Pipettes, who are associates of the Go! Team, share that band’s taste for using catchy pop to achieve mischievous ends, updating girl-group style for the era of PJ Harvey, Liz Phair and Sex and the City. They replace wistful longing with grrrrl-powered sexual aggressiveness. If the heroine in a Crystals song was waiting for her perfect boy to arrive, her Pipettes counterpart expects the lummox who is snoring next to her to be gone before breakfast. Becki, Gwenno and Rose, the polka-dot-clad girls up front, are the band’s focal point, but there are seven Pipettes in all. But the four boys who play all the instruments (known collectively as the Cassette) maintain anonymity, partly as a comment on the men who historically pulled the strings of girl groups, but mostly as an acknowledgment that no one will care who they are.
We Are the Pipettes is a great debut, unapologetically retro in sound but current in sensibility. Songs like “Pull Shapes” and “It Hurts to See You Dance So Well” are irresistible girl group pop with some disco elements thrown in, although “Dirty Mind” echoes Maxine Nightingale’s classic “Right Back Where We Started From” a little too closely. Sensitive boys seem to be the bane of the Pipettes’ existence, as songs like “Why Did You Stay,” “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me” and “Sex” heap scorn on sweet guys clueless enough to expect love in return. “One Night Stand,” with its sweetly sung chorus of “I don’t want you / I don’t need you,” is especially harsh, although the finale, “I Love You,” finds the Pipettes willing to lavish affection on someone they feel deserves it. We Are the Pipettes is about as much fun as an album can be — 14 tracks of sparkling pop with a lot of bite in the lyrics.