Sunday, 3 June 2012

Scissor Sisters - Magic Hour

New York’s Number 1 purveyors of retro-camp glam are back with their fourth album. As the follow-up to the hyper-sexualised disco-pop of 2010’s ‘Night Work’, an album which re-confirmed their commitment to night time hedonism but skimped on the quality control. Lead singer Jake Shears, has protested that this is the Scissor Sisters' most consistent album to date. If anything the opposite is true. Much of ‘Magic Hour’ is hopelessly patchy, stitched together from a million different ideas.

‘Keep Your Shoes’ tacks the melody of ‘Get Ur Freak On’ to a stepping house beat and some of Jake’s most aggressive lyrics, while ‘Let’s Have A Kiki’ is an atrocious Ana Matronic led spoken word piece. Apparently a ‘kiki’ is a late night after-party but although it fits the theme of fading New York glamour it’s hard to see how anyone could have fun listening to it.

Current single ‘Only The Horses’ canters along with a melange of fluorescent synths and beats and is probably their best shot at repeating the chart success of ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ but the Calvin Harris production manages to smother the group’s charm. As possibly the only group in which the second frontperson’s role is primarily to rein in the extravagance of the other, it should be impossible for Jake Shears to sound like he’s anonymous, but to Harris he seems to be just another ingredient in the mix rather than the flamboyant and charismatic peacock feather-clad embodiment of Scissor Sisters disco riot.

In fact, the mess of producers involved in ‘Magic Hour’ is a problem that runs through the entire record. With Calvin Harris on the aforementioned single, Pharrell Williams on electronic ballad ‘Inevitable, Madonna collaborator Stuart Price on two tracks and electro-house star, Alex Ridha (aka Boys Noize) scattered across the rest to say that its uneven would be an understatement. If ‘Magic Hour’ were a city it would undoubtedly be San Francisco, but San Francisco in 1906 just after a major earthquake. In the past the quickfire leaps between glam, disco and electro-pop were united by its frontman’s infectious presence but here the group seem incapable of maintaining a style or mood for two tracks in a row.

Luckily there are still a few great moments that make you realise why Scissor Sisters were so easy to love in the first place. Opener ‘Baby Come Home’ takes every musician fond of a falsetto (Elton and the Bee Gees for starters) and mixes them together into a frothy milkshake of 70’s piano, vocoder and disco harmonies. There’s a whiff of ‘Ta-Dah’s kitsch, but the cherry on top is Jake’s Prince-style vocal tics in the breakdown. Its chorus of ‘Baby come home to me’ feels sweet and heartfelt amongst Magic Hour’s more robotic moments. Even better is teaser track ‘Shady Love.’ Guest star Azealia Banks nails the driving chorus in a star-making turn reminiscent of Nicki Minaj’s guest spot on Kanye West’s ‘Monster’, but its Jake’s bonkers lyrics about partying with a girl who’s ‘gonna vote for Obama and she likes to dance to Madonna’ which demonstrate just how fun Scissor Sisters can be when they really cut loose.

Another of ‘Magic Hour’s quirks is its use (or should that be overuse?) of silly sound effects. Got a song about tropical beaches? Let’s have some waves! A party closed down? Police Sirens! Moments like this can be deployed cleverly but Scissor Sisters seem unwilling to let their audience do any of the work. For a band who thrive by offering an anything-goes, all-inclusive enclave, shoving these effects heavy-handedly down their audiences throat just serves to raise a barrier between band and their fans. Played back-to-back with their previous records the contrast is even more distinct. Their debut ‘Scissor Sisters’ is irreverent, funny and inherently likeable. Magic Hour is more of an awkward 45 minutes.


Max Sefton

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