Scissor Sisters‘ still-great eponymous 2004 debut was, in the best possible sense, all over the place. It featured Elton John-style honky-tonk piano pop (Take Your Mama), a Prince pastiche worthy of Prince himself (Laura), icy synth-pop (It Can’t Come Quickly Enough) and Pink Floyd‘s Comfortably Numb re-modelled as a helium-voiced electro number. It was clear that Scissor Sisters were in thrall to the power of a good pop song, and they didn’t care which genre they borrowed in the quest for a memorable hook or danceable groove.
If the debut was the soundtrack to an unpredictable, freewheeling night out, then the follow-up, 2006’s Ta-Dah, emitted the forced jollity of an office party. In that context, the (admittedly huge) lead-off single I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ proved about as enjoyable as being dragged on to the dancefloor by a pissed-up member of the accounts team while Leo Sayer played in the background.
Once the Ta-Dah campaign was out of the way, the Scissor Sisters laid low. But then, in April this year, something exciting happened. A Robert Mapplethorpe photo of a preternaturally pert pair of clenched buttocks was emblazoned across the Sisters’ website. The soundtrack was a taster track from their new album, Night Work. That track was Invisible Light, a six-minute long, poppers-snorting dance track featuring rave horns and a spoken word cameo from Sir Ian McKellen containing the phrases “painted whores”, “sexual gladiators” and “party children”. It was, of course, amazing. The message was clear: Scissor Sisters are back and they’re going to show you a good time.
While nothing else on Night Work quite matches the excitement of Invisible Light, the track proves a representative taster for an exclusively uptempo, electronic pop album. Producer Stuart Price applies some of the same single-minded intensity he brought to Madonna‘s Confessions On A Dance Floor, and the album barely pauses for breath once it bolts out of the tracks with the hyperactive title song.
First single Fire With Fire pairs a skyscraping melody with rousing lyrics (“It used to seem we were number one, but now it sounds so far away”), making it the perfect soundtrack for any forthcoming World Cup highlights reel. Other standouts include the slyly funky Whole New Way, the shimmering Skintight, and Any Which Way, whose two-note bassline, disco string stabs and muscular electro squiggles make it a worthy companion piece to the first album’s Tits On The Radio. Scissor Sisters have always been skilful musical magpies, and Night Work includes some of their most barefaced steals yet. The melodic top line of the bridge on Something Like This is lifted from Kraftwerk‘s Radioactivity, while the intro of Running Out recalls She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult – a reference that’s as enthralling as it is unexpected.
Night Work’s unswerving focus also acts to its detriment, however. The problem isn’t so much the album’s pacing, but more its limited emotional range. On earlier tracks like It Can’t Come Quickly Enough and Laura, the Sisters showed they could affect the heart as well as the feet. But the softer, more sensitive side of the band doesn’t get a look in on Night Work, an omission that’s particularly galling in light of highly dispensable filler like Harder You Get and Skin This Cat.
Still, if Night Work set out to remind listeners what they loved about Scissor Sisters in the first place, it succeeds. If it had a couple more absolute killer songs then it would be an unqualified triumph but, as it stands, Night Work will do more than nicely.