Album Reviews

Jake Shears – Last Man Dancing

(Mute) UK release date: 2 June 2023

The Scissor Sisters icon takes aim for the dance floor and invites along heroes past and present for the party to end all parties

Jake Shears - Last Man Dancing Have you ever thought that there might just be too much music, that you’ll never hear all of it, and can it all just stop for a bit while you catch up? Well, think on, for insatiable ball of energy in human form Jake Shears is here with the world’s most infectious grin to emphatically counter such notions.

Yes, Last Man Dancing’s opener is titled Too Much Music, but the whole line is “there’ll never be too much music for me”. His second solo album since Scissor Sisters entered hiatus, three years in the making and featuring production chops from the likes of Boys Noize, is quite the demonstration of this. Across a work of two distinct halves, Shears offers his hand and guides us expertly through a hedonistic kaleidoscope of disco pop homage, gay icons, convivial singalongs and, most surprisingly, an outrageously slapping run of bona fide future club classics of his own.

As with any journey – and this album certainly is one, from beginning of the night to its inevitable end – it’s best to begin at the start. Warming up the vocal cords and hips alike, Too Much Music offers a dramatically retro opening that references ABBA’s Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) and takes us straight to peak disco with ecstatic diva backing vocals, strident synths and killer piano hooks. With the opening line of “Well, we finally made it to the promised land,” there’s a sense of Shears deciding on what it is he wants to do and finding a way to do it. Do The Television, first released in 2021, brings a mid-paced tempo with hand claps and fancy bass underpinning the pertinent question: “Oh my children, can you keep up with us?” From here the first half of the album unfolds to reveal an abundance of poppy variety and colour. Shimmying into view on the italo-tinged third track Voices is Shears’ serial collaborator and all round icon Kylie Minogue, her coquettish top notes fluttering harmoniously above his.

I Used To Be In Love could just as well be one of Minogue’s own songs, being at heart an uptempo groove about finding your own power after being “messed around”, and by now if you’re not already dancing you should check your pulse. There’s more of a self-empowerment ilk in Really Big Deal, with the fabulous lines “It don’t take no magic to have this mass appeal” and “I don’t need no back-up, the power that you see is real”. Shears has recently moved to London, and if this braggadocio of a song serves as his introductory calling card, he righteously has no intention of being a small fish in a big pond. The title track which follows is a relatively sedate affair, though a declaration of intent for what is to come.

It concludes the first half of the album for, from here, the tone, beat and mood shifts decisively to the spinning lights and thrillingly dark corners of the dance floor. 8 Ball – we’ll leave you to look up the meaning – is almost entirely instrumental, scarcely featuring Shears at all save for a fade-in of that Bee Gees vocal he does so well, preluding what’s to come. A Nile Rodgers style rhythm guitar line interplays with a powerful piano part that calls Elton John to mind, with synthy phrases tying it all tightly together, firing synapses and limbs all the way. As it segues seamlessly into the ecstatic classic disco era Devil Came Down The Disco, with powerhouse vocals courtesy of Amber Martin, we’re now deep in a big grinning gay groove.

This stunning run of form is far from over as Mess Of Me patters into view under Shears’ falsetto vocals, synths and bass gradually ramping up behind, and before we know it we’re in the presence of a latter-day Sylvester, replete with oohs, aw-haws and yeahs. It’s homage, but with deep knowledge and feeling, dancing on the shoulders of a giant while acknowledging his presence and legacy from someone who’s obviously a fan. Doses meanwhile, with deep vocals from Bounce music mainstay Big Freedia, suggests thought connections to Mantronix, and primes for the utterly sublime bacchanal of Radio Eyes. Introduced with sultry knowingness by Jane Fonda (!), it is propelled forth by an animated more-Giovanni-than-Giorgio Georgio Moroder style backing that underpins Shears’ falsetto deep in the mix. It’s the most epic and hypnotic thing he’s laid down since the first Scissor Sisters album. “Why do I feel so alive?” he asks, but this track is surely the answer he seeks.

As the album closes out with his powerful vocal turn in the take-it-down Diamonds Don’t Burn, complete with Iggy Pop burbling some post-many-drinks truths and evoking the end of the night vibe with it, we are reminded that Shears’ ability to make powerful pop with mass appeal originates in the margins of his own experience and that of his forbears and contemporaries. Narratively cohesive and relatable, it is in celebration of where he comes from that ultimately makes Last Man Dancing the essential, repeatable work that it is.

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