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Night life’s not all what it’s cracked up to be

21/06/2010

Say what you will but in my eyes/ears, Scissor Sisters‘ self-titled debut is one of the best debut albums of the decade. On the surface it looks like a superficial, flamboyant pop album for dirty discos and sweaty dancefloors, but underneath all of its surface gleen there’s a pained heart of losses of loved ones, and dangers of the drug-filled nightlife undersides. Plus, it’s got one killer of an attitude and a some hell of a cracking songwriting skill is stuffed in its hook-filled disco anthems. Its follow-up Ta-Dah wasn’t as successful – it had that painfully familiar sound of a band trying to reconnect with the zeitgeist they reached with their debut while also trying to clumsily claim new ground. The final result succeeded in neither and while it has its moments, Ta-Dah continues to be a somewhat disappointing mess.

Expectations were however set high for the band’s third album as more and more news and interviews started to trickle in. They had taken their time in studio and abandoned a lot of work that didn’t feel right. They openly admitted they were aware of Ta-Dah’s faults. They were talking about a return to the masochistically hedonistic nightlife that made their debut such a hoot. And most importantly, when the music started flowing it actually kept to the band’s words. The preview track “Invisible Light” was a stunning dancefloor stormer, complete with an Ian McKellen monologue, while the lead single “Fire With Fire” showed that the piano rock tendencies of Ta-Dah could be improved upon to deliver something actually quite damn good.

The rest of Night Work has now leaked and will be up for official release soon. A return to form then?

Sadly Night Work as a whole doesn’t bring much joy about the band’s rejuvenated inspiration. If anything, it confirms the fears that this might be a band that invested it all into their first album and are now unable to recapture that magic. This is because Night Work is tremendously successful at bringing the band back with a blast when it comes to the album’s style. It’s almost like a concept album in the way it plays and operates thematically: musically it sounds like it belongs to the wildly sexual, pounding clubrooms and dancefloors it most likely will find an audience in. When the characters of the songs aren’t commanding their new finds to hump them anywhere they can or aren’t grinding next them in a mix of dance and outrageous flirting, they’re spending their nights out there trying to find someone or simply dancing away in automated behaviour, almost as if it was another 9-to-5 job for them. The soundworld is shiny and sensual: it’s a full-on disco album and shies away from ballads or the like. It’s an area where the Sisters are definitely at an advantage.


Fire With Fire

Which is why it strikes as particularly off-putting that much of Night Work is so weak. The style works, the production works, it’s well arranged… but it’s lacking the tunes. Most of the songs plod along particularly unexcitingly much like a fair chunk of Ta-Dah’s weakest moments, and no matter how nice the style is as an idea and as an concept it’s not much use if the songwriting themselves lacks any power to attach to the listener. For dance songs, it’s hard to imagine getting down to these on the dancefloor. For pop songs, they lack the identifiable melodies and hooks that make them memorable. The band’s come up with an idea on how to advance themselves but forgot to actually build it into anything more than an idea. In a way it’s even a bit more upsetting than the simple slapdash composition of Ta-Dah.

However, Fire With Fire and Invisible Light continue to be songs worth keeping. The former bears practically no resemblance to the rest of the album and its Killers-esque torchlight anthem power is the album’s emotional core and the one moment where the hedonistic musical voyerism is sweeped away as its big sweeping choruses and “we can one day be winners” message ring out with fireworks. Invisible Light on the other hand is the perfect closing track, a song that gathers together everything the album conveyed and pushes it all together into one definitive statement – after Sir McKellen has finished his monologue, the song builds up into a humongous dance euphoria that seems downright wasted on this particular album (although at the same time it seems like the perfect carrot-on-a-stick to give Night Work more than a few listens). Out of the rest of the album tracks, there is also “Sex and Violence” which manages to stand above the majority of Night Work’s content with its endlessly cool scifi synth-pop.

Night Work is an album filled with promise and potential yet with little content – rarely does one come across an album that so well sounds like something that the band in question should master, yet which fails to actually meet with that strength. Its material isn’t bothersome or bad, simply indifferent no matter which way you look at it. It’s a disco album that wants you to spend your life on the dancefloor, yet which actually fails to inspire to make you dance or provide with a good enough reason to give it a go when faced with other choices. It’s a sad idea that the band that brought us Scissor Sisters might never be able to harness that same muse that inspired them back then to create such a wild pop masterpiece. But it’s an idea that with each album since seems to become a melancholy truth.


Invisible Light

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