Despite its title, Ta-Dah offers few surprises. For Scissor Sisters, that’s not entirely a demerit. Their debut album proved that Jake Shears and company excel in creating catchy and upbeat songs. “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'”, the first single off Scissor Sisters’ second album, is among the most tuneful songs to emerge on the airwaves in recent memory. Co-written with Sir Elton John, who also appears on piano, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” is impeccably crafted dance-pop. With hip-hop/R&B dominating Top 40 radio in 2006, it’s stylistically implausible for this song to become a mainstream hit in the U.S. but it is the quintessential song to introduce to a Scissor Sisters neophyte — the hooky melody, Shears’ falsetto, and the tight rhythm section are all perfectly in place. A song this strong, however, sets the bar high and Ta-Dah unveils the band jumping in fits and spurts to maintain that quality throughout all 12 songs.
Jake Shears does not possess the strongest voice, for one. What he lacks in strength he compensates for in attitude and flamboyance, all neatly lining his bitchy baritone. These qualities are tolerable when called upon sparingly, especially on the immediately likable “Lights”, but Shears plays the falsetto card a bit too often. By the time he squeaks out “I got rhythm in my dancing shoes” Barry Gibb-style on “Ooh”, the tactic is grating rather than ingratiating.
More successful is “She’s My Man”, which strikes through the speakers like a lightening bolt. Scissor Sisters’ strong rhythmic core — Babydaddy, Del Marquis, and Paddy Boom — craft an impressive playground of rock accoutrements in which Shears warbles his gender-confused lyrics. Like “Take Your Mama”, one of the highlights from Scissor Sisters (2004), there’s an undeniable Elton John influence on “She’s My Man”. This time the culprit is a subtle tweak on “I’m Still Standing”. Good thing Sir Elton is a self-confessed groupie of the band.
In fact, Scissor Sisters’ musical sensibilities seem lifted from an array of sources. There’s the Elton influence, Shears’ Gibb-brother vocal affectations, and the kitschy kitchen sink melodies that remind you of “that song” from the ’70s whose title is right on the tip of your tongue. On “Kiss You Off”, it’s apparent that Ana Matronic, the sole female member in the band, listened closely to her Best of Blondie album and that Babydaddy consulted a “Giorgio Moroder Introduction to Sound Design” guide. The result? Something not far removed from “Call Me” but Ana Matronic is no Debbie Harry.
Because Matronic’s voice is discernable on only one of these twelve tracks, I have yet to fully grasp what her role is in the band. I caught Scissor Sisters at Irving Plaza in New York City just after the release of their debut album and Matronic figured prominently in the show. A glittery, witty sidekick for Shears, she sang more in concert than on record and yet still on the second album, she’s as unobtrusive as wallpaper. The band might as well be called “Jake and the Scissor Sisters”.
With a couple of exceptions, Shears is also the primary lyricist for the band. His nonsensical musings are not as bothersome on the uptempo tracks because the beat diverts the listener’s attention away. On “Might Tell You Tonight”, the one traditional love song on Ta-Dah, the lyrics read like adolescent scribblings on a spiral notebook: “Never took piano lessons/ But baby you’re a grand/ And I will learn to play the good notes/ And tune you up the best I can.” On record and in his live performances, Shears seems more interested in throwing the most decadent party ever than crooning love songs so perhaps lyrics are besides the point…
After carefully considering the closing track, “Everybody Want the Same Thing”, I wonder what “thing” Jake Shears wants and what thing he assumes Scissor Sisters’ audience wants or what they should want (none of this is made explicit in the lyrics). Does Shears have the stamina to keep up the “Jake Shears” gimmick for another five years before self-destructing? There are already visible signs of wear on his much-photographed face in the two years between Scissor Sisters and Ta-Dah. Is it just coincidence that a sound clip by Judy Garland, that most tragic of all icons, closes “The Other Side” (a very decent tune, by the way)? “Happy yesterday to all/We were born to die” Shears merrily exclaims on “Intermission”. Are Jake Shears and his band of Scissor Sisters here to burn bright like distant stars and then dissolve into darkness? Stay tuned for the next album to hear the answers. I wonder which rock legend Scissor Sisters will summon to appear…