Ah, it’s been a while. I’m not sure I remember anything from ‘Ta-Dah!’ apart from ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’’. Go on, whistle something and I’ll see if it registers. Still, I’ve always looked on the Scissor Sisters very fondly and they are masters of tight, smart pop music so, having delighted in their Glasto set, ‘Night Work’ has entered the record collection today. Here are my initial thoughts during the very first play.
Sounds like the ‘big number’ from an iconic Eighties film. Not one in particular, you understand, just like it belongs in that world of denim jackets, roller skates and massive hair. Big, cheesy female vocals and dramatic breaking-something-loudly sound effect to finish. A bold statement of intent and a thoroughly successful opener.
‘Whole New Way’
Oh, now this has the funk. It is, I would suggest, a fan of George Michael’s ‘I Want Your Sex’. A lovely, sloping chorus with cheap sounding electronic horns and an instantly memorable melody. Neat little breakdown where it all goes a bit intense and anguished, before the chorus comes roaring back in. This slinks along at first, seeming good but nothing special. By the end of it, it’s clearly a Scissor Sisters classic and right up there with their best.
‘Fire With Fire’
The recent single which is ridiculously young Elton at the start before ramping up the pop chorus ahead of the inevitable thumping beat kicking in just past a minute. This is the kind of joyous tunesmithery which can get sneered at by charlatans (and The Charlatans, judging by their phenomenally drab new album) who dismiss it as throwaway, but you try and write songs as instantly catchy as these. Not a million miles away from the Hi-NRG sound The Feeling opted for on their second album. The sheer willingness to deploy the cheesiest synth sounds is hugely endearing and the effect is oddly euphoric.
‘Any Which Way’
Nice. Big siren sound to kick off, funky beat kicks in and its the first full on Chipmunk vocal from Jake for this album. So utterly relentless is it, that it takes a little getting used to and it does set me on edge at first. Lovely, strutting bass going on in this. “You better take me any which way you can” is hardly subtle in terms of lyrical refrain or subject matter, although since the very first second of this album, I’ve been unable to listen to any lyrics without assuming that they’re either intended to have double entendre purposes or that they must be double entendres I don’t know yet. Nice bit of spoken word Ana Matronic for the middle eight with full theatrical sass before a whispery interpretation of the chorus refrain. Absolutely enormous this one and every chance of being a huge radio hit at some point in the future.
‘Harder You Get’
Even the titles now! Hmm. This is the first track to leave me a little cold. Sounds like Eighties pop tries trying to ape the malevolent guitar throb of ‘Thriller’. In the verses, Jake Shears sounds like a cross between Bryan Ferry and Berlin Bowie – no bad thing. Sadly, the chorus doesn’t really live up to it, decent enough though it is. Once you show such pop chops, a high watermark is established and this, ultimately, doesn’t quite get there. Every chance I’ll change my mind though, I’m sure.
Floaty, space-age bleepy noise gives way to tight, upbeat chug and synthetic drum sound. Vocals rattle on at 100mph, so I’ve not got much idea what he’s saying, but it sounds decent enough. This isn’t really sticking, instead washing over me at pace. There’s not much to yelp about in the chorus, but there’s a thoroughly enjoyable bleepy instrumental middle eight breakdown. On reflection, the ‘ahh-owww’ backing vocals on the chorus are rather nice.
‘Something Like This’
It’s gone all N-Sync now. Think boy band trying to sound like they have actual semen that they wish to dispense, trying to prove that they have big boy feelings and that they can be serious and, ohhh, ‘naughty’. It’s a bit like that. Except, of course, you can tell that it’s Jake Shears’ voice a mile off. The electronic squelch, like an accordion that only plays robotic noises, belts in and out all the way through and is actually quite addictive. The silly little pauses and breakdowns during a late rendition of the chorus warrant a few minus marks, though not as many as when Stevie Wonder stopped ‘If You Really Love Me’ at the Glasto to do some strange, deeply unfunny skit.
‘Skin This Cat’
Thought this said ‘Shin This Cat’ at first. Thought it was based on that odd Paddy Power advert involving taking aim at Tiddles. Ana takes centre stage for this mid-paced plodder. The more interesting things seem to be going on in the background. Loads of lovely electronic noise. ‘Come here, kitty kitty, let’s skin this cat’ is a fairly nondescript lyric rendered half-decent by an almost effortlessly steamy vocal.
Starts with an annoying fake vinyl pop and scratch sound, but quickly improves. Immediately establishes one of those anticipatory, wafty electronic soundscapes behind the first verse, waiting for the beat to kick in. And kick in it does, leading up to a marvellously simple but charmingly hooky chorus. Ah, the muted euphoria returns prior to the chorus after the second verse, before the refrain ‘You’re so skin tight’ rapidly lodges itself in your brain. Oooooh. The middle eight is like something out of a pop masterclass, so typical yet so perfectly executed is it. That’s the thing about the Scissor Sisters. They are students of pop borne out of being huge fans of pop and, despite all appearances, they take this stuff very seriously.
‘Sex And Violence’
Oh, christ, I didn’t even notice the tracks change over. Thought ‘Skin Tight’ had taken a weird directional shift. This one has that old pop staple: the chorus that seeps out of the verse with ease, with no need for a massive gear change. Sound a little bit like the backing to something Cher might have released around the time of ‘Believe’ on the odd occasion, but let’s not hold that against it. A little anticlimactic after ‘Skin Tight’, but it’s nowhere close to only being filler. Nice bit of low voice Jake, something he isn’t really known for but which he also excels at.
Slowly rising refrain to begin, no beat to speak off. Deliciously retro ‘woooo-woooh’ backing vocals. Expecting an a-ha style beat to kick in. And… well, not far off, actually. Very Eighties again, scampering all over the place and a chorus that owes a debt of style if not sound to Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ – lovely flitting back and forth between backing vocals on the refrain ‘Night Life’ and Jake with the main lyric. Massive singalong this, inducing toe-tapping, leg-drumming and head-bobbing throughout. Shamelessly retro, effortlessly cool. Finishes with the sound of an ecstatic crowd, which bleeds sweetly into…
Low stroppy verse contrasts with high-pitched shrieky chorus to great effect. Mid-to-late Eighties, New Order style drum echoing going on during the verses. Let’s be honest, the album’s sleeve is ridiculously of that decade, and will look hilarious on vinyl, and it clearly signposts what to expect from this record, which really doesn’t disappoint. Not, perhaps, the biggest pop finish but the spoken word piece from Sir Ian McKellen offers a fantastic, epically camp conclusion.
So, are they back on the right track after ‘Ta-Dah!’, generally regarded as a bit of an exercise in treading water? Largely, yes. They’ve certainly got their chutzpah back, never shirking from anything for being too obvious or too cheesy. If anything, they actively seek it out, with largely successful results. A few lesser moments but also a few moments of genius and some great stuff in between. I hasten to add, that’s just off one listen, but I’d be surprised if any self-respecting pop fan who, on the basis of reading this, purchases this album were to end up anything less than satisfied.