Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Return of the girls
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Return of the girls

The Pipettes. It had to happen – the cyclical nature of pop music demanded that eventually, the girl group sound of the early ’60s would become hip again.

That’s exactly what might happen with the release next week of the Pipettes’ first full album in the UK. The British group, fronted by a trio of women wearing polka-dots and singing shrill harmonies to bouncy punk-pop that’s rooted in the simple romance but shot through with new millennium irony and cheek, has released a handful of singles to date (well, three, at least).

It’s one of those retro-with-a-modernist-twist sounds… back in the day, I made up a rockcrit word for it: Post-neoretro. I’m sorry to say, the word still makes sense to me, although my editor at the time beat me up for it.

I came across the Pipettes on the UK Independent, a newspaper Web site with sass that I enjoy cruising through every once in a while. Fiona Sturges’ article on the group caught my eye, and my ear followed. So I fired up iTunes and sure ’nuff, the trio’s singles were available, so I invested several bucks and downloaded them. They even have a MySpace page (smart marketing!) where you can sample the sound and watch a couple of their videos. There’s also a bunch of clips on YouTube.

Yup, these gals harken back to the Shirelles, Ronettes, Angels and more, all right.

They’re fun, they’re sassy (they’ve gotta be, with titles like “Dirty Mind” and “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me”) and they’re bouncy, and the songs are catchy, 3-minute bits of cool fluff. It’s pure pop for now and then people.

That’s the problem — the sound is refreshing, but it’s also coyly nostalgic to the point of novelty. It may take hold, or it may fizz away like so much Fresca on a summer night. Plus, their emphasis on the costumery and the dance moves live and on video make them seem shallow sensations looking to hit the bigtime, not your typical indie group trudging along for art’s sake.

The last time this kind of girl-group sound made a return, it was arty but the sound lasted a bit (and led to the bigtime too) via groups such as Blondie, B-52, Go-Gos and Bangles (and Katrina and the Waves for extra credit for you trivia nerds out there).

It remains to be seen if The Pipettes can lead the new resurgence to a wave, or if it’s just a bubble about to pop. As for me, it’s my kinda music, so I’ll root for ’em.