On second listen: That one Puppini Sisters’ debut album that they did
Being as this blog has now been going a good seven months, it’s probably safe to assume that I’m an utter failure at it, as nobody’s come to offer me a single fucking book deal, and we still get more people on here looking for pictures of Alex Sim Wise’s snatch than intelligent music debate. That guy who writes “Stuff White People Like” was already sitting on twankies seven months into his career, and instead I’m reduced to treading the boards of past glories and providing updates on topics discussed therein. Which is a flowery way of saying “The only place I encounter music these days is at the gym, for some reason they’ve added 2006 novelty act The Puppini Sisters to their “warm down” playlist, so here’s me talking about a review I did of their debut album from back in the day”.
The Puppini Sisters come across as a bunch of out-of-work actresses (that’s a guess) who saw The Triplets of Belleville once (this is official, straight off the press release truth) and thought “kitsch Andrews Sisters pop? Piece of piss, I can do that.” It’s like the last time you watched Raging Bull, right? Your immediate thought afterwards was “I reckon I should go and start a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. right this second, I don’t see what harm can come from that.” The result? You get knocked the fuck out, and we get Betcha Bottom Dollar—one of the five worst albums I’ve ever heard in my life. (This includes the time I spent reviewing local band demos for a provincial university newspaper for a year, and the time when I was so focussed on talking a friend out of committing suicide, I couldn’t move to switch off the record they’d chosen to end their life to (the second Kula Shaker album).)
I’d have some vague vestige of respect for the Puppini Sisters’ faux 1940 shtick if they went the whole hog and installed a “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish” policy at their gigs. It’s probably the only way they could be more contemptible. The closest you’ll get is one of the girls’ attempt at a “black” accent at the start of “Jeepers Creepers.” It’s slightly less convincing than Spike Milligan’s hilarious “Paki Paddy” character.
The Puppini’s in summary? Can’t sing, can’t dance, can take their clothes off a little. Yeah, the focal point for the band (the one who looks unnervingly like a raven) used to be a stripper. This is why America is a much better country than England: when the Yanks grab together a bunch of haggard-looking titty bar workers to form a soulless beat combo, they at least have the dignity to steal another R&B artist’s song and include a guest verse from a near narcoleptic Busta Rhymes. In the UK? We get ironic covers of The Smiths and Blondie.
Everyone loves novelty covers, right? Nouvelle Vague’s second album may have induced comas, but on their debut they made gems from turd-nuggets like “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning.” Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have been the indispensable kings of “Yeah, that’s alright I suppose” music for nigh on ten years now. Richard Cheese’s “Down With the Sickness” is probably, what, the third greatest song ever recorded? It’s so hard to fuck up these songs: learn one genre, play songs in another genre in said style. Then the kids listen to it three times: once to go “Hah, that’s funny!”, once to play it to their friends and go “Listen to this, it’s funny!”, and a third time to remember “Yeah, it’s not that funny any more.” Black Velvet Flag, The King, The Dan Band, Paul Anka… it’s so easy to do.
And yet the Puppini Sisters somehow mess it all up. The Puppinis give songs a “makeover,” in the same way that Frank Gallucio gave Al Capone a makeover with a switchblade. “In the Mood” is rendered sexless, plastic, and inhuman. “Sisters” sees them slurring their s’s like they’ve all had Secombe-level strokes, over backing instrumentation that sounds like the Windows error message. And “Falling in Love Again”… is not an Eagle Eye Cherry cover. That’s the sole compliment I can give them.
Ol’ Dirty Puppinis, there’s no father to their style. Except there is: if you go searching, you’ll discover the last time 1940s “Let’s suck off an American serviceman, we need the stockings” pop was reinvented for the then-modern era was “Swing Sisters Swing Medley” by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. That too included “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Done properly. It’s not hard. All the Puppini Sisters need to do is SING. That’s it. That’s all they need to do to make them approach bearable, and then maybe we could overlook the smug, reactionary, “Back in the days when the UK was a pure nation” Daily Express bullshit that typifies their approach. But they can’t even manage that. They have the same breath control as a dying Big Pun, stumbling over notes like they’re dyspraxic, begging for a ProTools clean-up job. It’s a slow trot through a modern day nightmare, walking down an endless corridor of raised eyebrows and no fucking soul.
Before we go any further, that Kula Shaker thing is true. The last I heard of that girl she was making a big noise down in Yorkshire’s “feminist riot grrrl sewing circle” scene, so it’s good to see she’s gone on to do something productive with the gift of life I gave her.
Two noteworthy points about this review. 1) I’m still marking this down as the worst album I’ve heard this decade, being as I have no desire whatsoever to listen to the forthcoming Florence and the Machine full-length and 2) This has easily provided the most hilarious feedback for any review I ever knocked out. Whether I was getting praised on pro-wrestling forums for it, or getting heatened by the Puppinis themselves on their message board, it all provided me with the warm glow of contentment you just don’t get after Claude Carpentiere deletes the (at last count) sixth blog article he’s written about me (still no sign of the legal papers, FYI).
But anyway, God bless those Puppini Sisters fans. I’ll leave you to discover your own favourite quips they hit me with, but rest assured there’s an early runout for someone pointing out that if you add the letter “c” to the start of “rap” it spells “crap”, and that I’m “widely despised for [his] vicious narrow minded rubbish reviews”. You can’t front on real talk. Also, for all my claims that one of them looks like a raven, she does only look like a raven from a certain angle. The rest of the time she looks like 1950s funny lady Joyce Grenfell.
But “Betcha Bottom Dollar” made me angry. Seriously, aggressively, white-knuckles angry. We’ve been over on ILB before about how neo-burlesque is effectively a celebration of intellectual dishonesty, and between “ironic” kitsch revival pop acts and “my life as a feminist intellectual taking her clothes off for money” memoirs, can we all agree that strippers should be taken out back and shot when they finish their careers on the pole? They’re not providing anything useful to society, clearly. Again, showing the idiocy of T-Pain.
And the butchering of “Tu Vuoi Fa L’Americano” that features on this album hurts me as an Italian. Hurts me to the extent that you get to thinking maybe someone needs to send simian centrocampista Gennaro Gattuso round to a Puppinis’ gig and defend Lo Stivale, possibly with a series of shoulder-first challenges that he’ll defend with a “waddya want from me?” upturned palm gestures.
But “ Tu Vuoi Fa L’Americano”, in its correct forms, bangs hard. It’s the sort of song Robin Carmody would write about five times a week if he was Paisano and not Aspie, Pasolini’s sociology writings set to a folk-pop beat: the idea being that Italian culture was under siege from America, whiskey soda, rock n roll, Camel cigarettes and a refusal to treat mamma with respect. One of my grandmother’s favourite ever songs, y’know? Here’s the Renato Carosone version. Enjoy.