Music

Scissor Sisters: Magic Hour

They may be older and wiser but Scissor Sisters still know how to pull a rabbit out of a hat.


Scissor Sisters

Magic Hour

Label: Polydor
US Release date: 2012-05-29
UK Release date: 2012-05-28
Website
Amazon
iTunes

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.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image