The Pierces: You & I – review


If Catherine and Allison Pierce were a comedy double act, they would probably be better known. Up until this album – their fourth – these Alabaman sisters have allied water-tight conventional talents (close harmonies, guitar-playing, a knack for a tune) with the kind of impish songwriting perhaps better suited to Saturday Night Live.

The black-and-white video for their 2006 song, "Boring", for instance, featured both Pierces in some chic nightspot, dressed to kill but declaring everyone and everything "boring" – "girl on girl, ménage à trois, marijuana, cocaine, Galliano, Donatella…" It's a hoot. Their other videos have a high body count, with the male love interest often coming to some macabre end. Throughout a decade in the business, the Pierces have set themselves up as sultry singer-songwriters, coming over like a country-folk version of Agnetha and Anni-Frid, or a noughties take on Heart.

To some extent, however, they have always cocked a snook at industry expectations that female artists should be sultry and a little vapid. As they became a cult indie act, the Pierces' songs featured on films and TV shows. "Secret" is arguably their best known; its video features Catherine murdering Allison. Their last album, 2007's Thirteen Tales of Love And Revenge, had an extra frisson to recommend it – Catherine's long relationship with a Stroke, now ended. None of this was enough to stop the sisters from quitting when real success seemed unattainable.

You & I, by contrast, is the Pierces' straight album – one released with the help of Coldplay's Guy Berryman, who intervened to stop the sisters giving up. This alone has furnished the album with not inconsiderable momentum. As their last-chance saloon, You & I is a relatively conventional outing, mixing Stevie Nicks shawl-pop – like the deliciously gauzy lead single "You'll Be Mine" – with songs that can sound faintly like "California Dreaming" ("Kissing You Goodbye").

Their tunes may now be doe-eyed and glossy, but they are still captivating. "It Will Not Be Forgotten" examines a lost love with a faraway look in its eyes, while "Love You More" is a goth-folk sweep that features Catherine's ex, Albert Hammond Jr, on the low-slung guitar hook. Both will sound especially good in a convertible speeding down a sun-baked highway, and deserve to ring in the ears of playlisters at Radio 2. Pristine and bittersweet, "I Put Your Records On" recalls Rumer.

It would be a terrific twist in the Pierces' tale if this album finally earned them the success they deserve. But this folk-tinged, 70s AOR sound isn't really selling just now. Certainly, Lissie – another recent major-label hope – hasn't set the charts alight.

The Pierces' sense of mischief has been replaced by a poker face, which is something of a shame for those of us who liked the sisters when they had a little more top-spin. But it's a calculation that deserves to get them taken seriously.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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