It’s an anomaly that Scissor Sisters haven’t made it big Stateside, but that’s simply symptomatic of America’s deep conservatism. Emerging from New York’s throbbing club scene, Scissor Sisters are possibly too flamboyant, decadent and overtly camp. It’s almost been a decade since the band released their self-titled debut album, which triumphantly re-invented the ’70s with so much sass and sleaze that it deserved its position as the UK’s best selling album of 2004.
Since then there have been some swerves and bumps. Ta-Dah, their psychedelic ’60s homage, suffered from the “difficult second album” syndrome where Jake Shears and company crumbled under the pressure of high audience expectations and failed to find a common vision. Yet I Don’t Feel Like Dancing topped the singles chart. The follow-up, 2010’s Night Work, which Shears promised was inspired by Berlin and its sleazy backrooms, featured the filthy and gorgeous Invisible Light – with a Vincent Price-esque cameo from Ian McKellen – and, produced by Stuart Price, was suitably dark, explicit and thrilling.
Now Magic Hour, Scissor Sisters’ fourth release is upon us. It doesn’t have a sonic or lyrical theme, and from the outset, this works to their advantage. The album is loose and unstructured, and not reined in by a singular producer – Diplo, Pharrell Williams and Boys Noize all lend a hand. This is the sound of a band truly enjoying themselves in the studio, confident enough in their abilities to freely collaborate with other big names.
Opening track Baby Come Home kicks off with a rickety piano riff and shifts into gear with soaring key changes, handclaps and a campfire singalong chorus that sounds like the lovechild of ABBA, Elton John and Boney M. Shady Love, the album’s first buzz track, is the band’s first foray into rap territory, and the results are surprisingly stellar. Featuring the talents of so-hot-right-now Azealia Banks and the naff-but-genius lyrics “She gon’ vote for Obama, and she likes to dance with Madonna”, the song is adventurous, muscular and aggressive.
High gloss synth stabs dominate the sassy Keep Your Shoes On; San Luis Obispo is a frisky calypso escapade; and the pulsing, thumping Somewhere is surely a contender as a future single. Elsewhere, Only The Horses, the album’s first major single, has divided both critics and fans alike. With Rihanna and Lady Gaga finally delivering club hits – albeit with a pop twist – to American radio, it’s relatively clear this Calvin Harris-produced single is the band’s one final push at cracking the tricky Transatlantic singles market. Using Harris probably wasn’t a calculated move, but as long as he continues to produce records with his signature banging basslines, all of his work will be compared to Rihanna’s gigantic – and ubiquitous – We Found Love. Only The Horses is not quite as uplifting, and therefore less likely to be the pop smash they seem to be hoping for, but its melody is more subtle, complex and just as satisfying.
The album’s real highlight, however, is Let’s Have A Kiki. Led by Ana Matronic, who has a better presence overall on this album than the last, this twisted, nonsensical track revolves around a phone call detailing her frustration getting to a club looking like a drowned rat on a rainy night, later opting to take her party back to a fellow club kid’s Lower East Side apartment for an all nighter. Featuring drag queen jargon (“I wanna have kiki night, We’re gonna serve, And work and turn, And honey!”), it’s minimal, fierce, and, just like the entire record, an ultimate New York moment.