Album Reviews

The Puppini Sisters – Betcha Bottom Dollar

(Universal Classics) UK release date: 31 July 2006

Once in a while your ears need a good old slap. Familiarity with this weeks’ Arcade Fire, last Tuesday’s Arctic Monkeys or the next Chico…. So, do we gaze heroically into the mist of the future trying to pluck genius from the ether, or do we scurry protectively back into the comfort blanket of the past and give it a bit of a refresher?

The Puppini Sisters know that ‘pop will eat itself’ and are serving up lashings of the stuff with their 1940’s three-part, close-harmony cheeky jazz reworkings of the classics of the day and beyond. Or, to put it bluntly, it may appeal to your ‘flambuoyant’ friend who likes showtunes.

Like the trend of Nouvelle Vague giving our indie-glumsters of old a bossa-nova makeover this is in similar territory. If you don’t immediately recognize the majority of these tracks then, trust me, your parents, or even your grandparents will, even if it means gramps cutting a quiff to The Smiths‘s Panic once more (not pretty, and this version sounds like a poor Nouvelle Vague outtake.

The only down side to this project is the overdosing on saccharine oddity. Recently I spied the Pupps (as they’ve never been known) on the tail end of Big Brother performing the theme tune in an accapella style, which was nice, odd and a bit unnecessary. Like the musical section on a thousand ‘chat shows’ condensed The Puppini Sisters definitely do have ‘something’, but over the course of an album you wish they’d take it elsewhere. I’m a great believer in ‘ye olde tongue-in-cheek’ take on songs but it does grate to have trad jazz favourites Mr Sandman (which they perform straight-down-the-line note perfect) rub incongruous tonsils with Kate Bush‘s Wuthering Heights (too smug for its own good) Other contemporary travesties under attack are perennial disco karaoke fave I Will Survive (they know their audience…), and Blondie‘s Heart Of Glass (just plain nasty).

There’s no doubting their musical ability in the complex vocal arrangements in place here. Heartstrings are plucked in the right way when the accapella Falling In Love Again provides respite from the ‘wacky’ overload and the other vocal-only closer In The Mood is strangely seductive. Perhaps the sisters would be better off with better musical company or none at all?

The main trouble with The Puppini Sisters is that once you get beyond the novelty of close harmony songs performed in a 1940’s jazz style there’s not a lot going on. For an album to be reliant on cover versions not even the addition of odd instrumentation from musical saws to whistling solos and an alleged dying bugler can raise this above the category of ‘quirky’ party music.

It’s a shame that the closest comparison to them is the other close harmony trio from America who sniffed fame in the early 1980s are The Roches. Who, with their quirky, out-of-step harmony pop used old musical styles to tell modern tales of heartbreak and confusion all served up with a smirk and a devilishly good tune. But unlike them, The Puppini Sisters haven’t shown their songwriting chops off yet. But given their predilection for all things retro, they can almost guarantee a residency at Glastonbury’s Lost Vagueness next year.

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The Puppini Sisters – Betcha Bottom Dollar