A first impression – derived from the opening track Laura – is that Scissor Sisters are typically sassy New Yorkers with a preciously high opinion of themselves, and to some extent this is true. Laura is funky, provocative disco-cabaret rock, indirectly descended from the music of Kurt Weill – arcane, grotesque, shadowy, satiric – both in words and sound (nice Swanee kazoo!); but there is much more too.
Scissor Sisters show repeatedly that they can mimic almost any sound, but they never merely imitate; instead they use other referents as panels on which they paint their own sound pictures, producing in this album a magnificent polyptych. These songs are strikingly visual – ironic in view of (You Can’t See) Tits On The Radio.
In their take on Pink Floyd‘s Comfortably Numb they sound like the Bee Gees recording a disco track, with a harrowing on-hold noise in the background. There is also the “ah hah, ah hah, ah hah” send up of the all-girl band – more comprehensively essayed in the relentless Spice Girls monotone in Tits On The Radio. This layering of improbabilities – especially given the haunting text of the song – is the aural equivalent of a Roy Lichtenstein which makes you wonder just how detached from reality it is possible to get.
They may come from a gay, glam rock background and they may come across as outrageous, but Scissor Sisters demand to be taken seriously. When they sound introspective, it may take a little time to discern that they are strafing with pinpoint precision some institution or custom or cultural value – or, more likely, more than one. Nothing is sacred; all profane. Ambiguity is the norm.
This album displays the widest possible range of invention. Mary is a bittersweet ballad about friendship – the kind of friendship that might have developed when passion was deliberately and regrettably withheld – the sort of passion that is day by day invested in the transient (“When I’m down, you’re always there”).
It Can’t Come Quickly Enough is a powerful narrative over a relentless percussive beat that signifies the inexorable working out of fate; the wistfulness of the words echoes Marianne Faithful. Return to Oz is a soulful commentary on life here and now, with dazzling guitar riffs – at times uncomfortably close to the sound world of Robbie Williams (e.g., in Berlin).
At only a little over 40 minutes in length, this CD has perhaps been rushed out prematurely. Not everything is of the same searching and resourceful standard. After a Sergeant Pepper lead in (many of these sound pictures descend from The Beatles), Lovers In The Backseat disappoints. It goes nowhere but becomes repetitive like the radio (on reflection, perhaps a comment on lovers in the backseat). “Looking for another song on the radio” summons up the alienation of an Edward Hopper hotel room.
But, believe me, Scissor Sisters is the next Best Thing. Not to be missed.