They may be a new name to many UK listeners, but Alabama-raised, New York-based sister duo The Pierces have actually been around for quite a while. Since their 2000 self-titled debut, Catherine and Allison have mostly struggled in vain to find a broad audience for their quirky, slightly tongue in cheek brand of indie folk, and were on the brink of giving up music after 2007′s critically praised Thirteen Tales Of Love And Revenge failed to give them their breakthrough, despite standout track Secret featuring on hit TV shows Dexter and Gossip Girl. Even Catherine’s relationship with Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes (now over) failed to deliver the Courtney Love effect.
Enter Guy Berryman; friend, fan and most significantly bass player for the all-conquering Coldplay, who persuaded the band not to call it a day and offered the services of Darktones, the production company he runs jointly with Grammy winning producer Rik Simpson. A few months later, The Pierces re-emerged from the studio armed with a new major label record deal and a sleek, radio-friendly sound, ready to take on the world and make up for a decade of disappointment.
You & I is an unashamed bid for the mainstream which sees the rougher, odder edges of the sisters’ earlier work almost totally eliminated, both lyrically and musically. What we get instead is an American soft rock take on the Coldplay blueprint – tasteful, instantly accessible but also rather clinical and soulless. It’s also startlingly unoriginal, with the influences of The Mamas & The Papas and mid-period Fleetwood Mac not so much worn on their sleeves as enveloping them in an all over body suit.
Kissing You Goodbye is a case in point. Its sing-along infectiousness pulls you in the first time you hear it, but that’s probably because the melody and dynamic is so similar to California Dreamin’ it’s almost indistinguishable in places. Likewise, closing track I Put Your Records On is The Pierces’ version of Dream A Little Dream Of Me – deliciously languid, hazy and wistful yes, but we’ve heard it all before.
The sisters’ polished harmonies are pushed to the forefront of the mix throughout, with the accompanying instruments – politely strummed guitar, drums and keyboards – very much relegated to background noise. Their dominant, soaring voices are at times a dead ringer for Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, and at least half the songs on You & I could fit seamlessly on to Rumours or Tango In The Night, the best examples being opener You’ll Be Mine and Close My Eyes.
Beyond a faithful homage to some great names from the canon of American pop music, there’s really not a great deal of substance to You & I, but that doesn’t stop it from being superficially enjoyable. The hooks are strong, the mood is agreeable and the Darktones production predictably flawless. Yet it all feels strangely hollow, with little variety or scope for longevity once the initial confident breeziness has worn off.
Rewind back to Thirteen Tales Of Love And Revenge, which featured intriguingly peculiar songs like the aforementioned Secret, a faintly creepy, part-spoken word slice of gothic weirdness, and Boring, with Catherine and Allison joyfully denouncing everything from caviar and escargot to girl on girl and ménage à trois, and it’s not hard to see what You & I is lacking. It’s a very accomplished record, ideally suited to the Radio 2-type playlists it clearly craves, but it simply doesn’t have a personality of its own, even though its creators undoubtedly do. Which begs the question – what price fame?