[30 May 2012]
For a few crazy summers NYC’s Scissor Sisters were perversely and quite brilliantly one of the biggest bands in the UK. They brought not only “Da ruckus” but armfuls of club bangers, disco biscuits and ‘one size fits all’ gold hot pants for everyone. They even offered to take your Mother out and get her “Jacked up on some cheap champagne”, which was nice. Their self-titled début not only spawned five top-20 enormohits but became 2004’s best seller. Snake-hipped yoof shimmied to ‘em in neon basements, blokes whistled to ‘em on building sites whilst grannies and Vicars tapped their toes over tea giddily oblivious to any saucy subtext. They pissed off Pink Floyd fans (high-five!), wrote a cracker for Kylie, hijacked the BRITs with a super furry army of Jim Henson puppets and with sophomore album Ta-Dah ready to launch they were all but Chief Executives at the BBC. As “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” (Co-written with a bonafide English Knight) marched to No. 1, lead Scissors’ Jake “Krayzee Eyez” Shears and Miss Ana Matronic were given adjoining rooms at Buckingham Palace and the band dutifully crowned Kings & Queens of British pop…
...but Ta-Dah wasn’t much cop and the subsequent singles (“Land of a Thousand Words”, “She’s My Man” and “Kiss You Off”) were unceremoniously banished to the dumper and erased from memory like an unhinged relative no one talks about. So, turfed back out onto the mean streets—and after scrapping another album—2010’s bigger, better, faster, stronger Night Work (complete with cheeky sleeve) strutted the pop catwalk with brains and brawn. An album of punchy nightclubbers produced by Stuart Price (Killers, PSB, Madge) it was sadly greeted with shrugs and slow claps from contrary Brits who had since decided to dress solely in ill-fitting tracksuits and listen to ‘street tuff’ urban outlaws like Rihanna, Plan B and Susan Boyle.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that Magic Hour sounds like an attempt to sugar the pill and cover all bases. It’s easy to imagine it was preceded by a series of emergency Flight of the Concords-style “Band Meetings” (“Babydaddy?”, “Present!”) with BigWig Records’ tycoons amid graphs and piecharts. It has a mixtape feel, with all 12 tunes passing the litmus test of proper pop (the four-minute rule), each flying by in a flash, forming a “Legs-a-kimbo” pantomime resplendent with costume changes and swiftly re-assembled backdrops. Accordingly then everything isn’t always a perfect fit.
If there’s one dominant flavour it’s the classic SS penchant for ‘70’s FM radio. Future smash “Baby Come Home” opens the show with Jake donning those reassuringly, massive Elton John specs. A burst of gospel-lit “Philadelphia Freedom” sunshine with a rolling piano backdrop handpainted by John Legend. It’s a confident, out-of-the-park first swing. The moment in the movie with the mass synchronized dance in the park where cartoon bluebirds flutterby and even the cops get down. The slick, schmoove “Inevitable” finds the band randy ‘n’ pimped out in angelic white suits, skyscraper heels, ball-achingly tight pants, frilly shirts open to the navel revealing hairy chests and medallions. Yes it’s Bee Gee-tastic. Elsewhere the spirit of Abba’s “Fernando” plucks a Spanish guitar and pours a Sangria for the sweet salsa sway of “San Luis Obispo”. All castanets, sandals and sunburn it will be the Housewives’ favourite and is the “Daytime TV Scissor Sisters”. It’s not all Donkey rides ‘n’ flip-flops though, “Secret Life of Letters’” melancholic ache channels Kate Bush’s “Breathing” and offers a brief moment of solitude, a refreshing four-minute stormcloud breaking a heatwave.
Despite the tiresome ubiquity of the “Calvin Harris’ Factory Production Line”, only a miserablist would fail to gallop like a wild stallion around “Only the Horses”. Sure it sounds like EVERYTHING on your radio right now (that’s probably the point) but its “Hands-in-the-air, get-right-on-one matey” rave chorus is yearning, euphoric and momentarily the sun shines a little brighter. The most dizzily enjoyable moment though is a genuine surprise. “Let’s Have A Kiki” shouldn’t work. It’s pure novelty, a gonzo car crash of dialogue, voice messages, Jane Fonda leg-warmer exercises and clattering house beats. “I wanna have a Kiki / Lock the doors! Tight! / Lets have a Kiki! /...Motherfucker!”. It vaguely recalls Prince’s batshit crazy “Batdance” and is, inexplicably, ludicrously tasty. Be warned you’ll find yourself changing your answering machine message to “Yo w’sup! It’s Pickles, leave a message”. The midnight electro sparkle of “Somewhere” is similarly impressive for different reasons. As the closest link to the after-dark magic of Night Work, it ends the album on a real high. “Somewhere there’s a sky for only me / Diamonds in disguise / Hiding like forgotten days / All these tears of mine will fly away”. Subtly spine-chilling.
But all this frantic “Showtime!” dressing-up does occasionally trip a Sister up. “Year of Living Dangerously” is pure slo-mo ‘80s fromage. Soft focus close-ups for “Massive hair, designer stubble, serious face” whilst silk curtains billow across pristine, swanky apartments. Gorgeous violin though. The reggae-lite calypso of “Best in Me” is a pleasant enough poolside sunset yet instantly forgettable and despite lyrical frivolity (“Twist and shout, boobies all hanging out”) “Keep Your Shoes On” is a misguided attempt at an Aceeeed House banger with very dubious rapping. “Quirky? Wacky?” Mmm, try “Annoying”. Teaser single “Shady Love” definitely fares better as a mid-set, techno-dubstep, rinsin’ freakout but Shears’ Jamaican patois and the “Wheel-on, wheel-off” appearance of hypercool Azealia Banks still feels clumsy. A Dad at the Disco “Showin’ dem Kidz how we roll” moment.
Magic Hour won’t blow your mind but it conjures enough spectacle to highlight why Scissor Sisters remain one of pop’s smartest, most entertaining bands. It’s not as deliciously subversive as their début or as consistently thrilling as the bafflingly underrated Night Work but it’s way superior to the overcooked Ta-Dah. Some may argue that having had their wings clipped a little, this is a band dialling down their freak power (more tasteful threads, less gimp masks) and dialling the flavour (Calvin, Pharrell, Diplo, Azealia) in favour of Top 40 survival. Sure Magic Hour is unashamedly radio-friendly and would’ve certainly benefited from a little of their youthful chaos and sardonic wit, but there’s plenty proof these sharp Scissors can still cut it.