Zombie Politics

I drank your milkshake.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Scissor Sisters II: The Verdict

I’ll be the first to admit it: I was more than a little afraid that the second Scissor Sisters album was going to suck (big time). The thing that made me so frightened was the “comeback” single (although they really haven’t been away for too long – at least by the American release timetable of the first album… if that made any sense). It really wasn’t “comeback”-y enough. It didn’t make me remember why I had missed them; it didn’t get me all hot and bothered for new material; it didn’t make me scream “fuuuuuuuuuuck yeah” while running through the neighborhood in my underwear. And that was disappointing. Because it’s the Scissor Sisters - if there’s one band that should illicit giddy, half-naked tomfoolery, it’s them. I figured that music journalists and snotty bloggers must talk about the ‘sophomore slump’ for a reason. A glowing review in Q did nothing to alleviate my fears – as much as I love them, they still named Coldplay’s “X&Y” as album of the year last year.

(Please keep in mind that I missed all of their summer festival performances, most notably – and regrettably – Coachella. I’m told they “rocked the motherfuckin’ desert.”)

Then I heard the album. And that shut me up real quick.

“Ta Dah,” the band’s second full length, is nothing short of a masterpiece. Really, truly, this is an exceptional pop record.

A couple of things are shocking, right off the bat: First off, the complexity of the lyrics seems to have grown by leaps and bounds. If memory serves, Jake Shears writes the lyrics and Baby Daddy writes the music, although the exact nature of their collaborative process remains a mystery. Whoever’s responsible, there’s a maturity, humanity and sophistication (and wit) that was absent from the first album. Not that the first album is lacking lyrically, but these are lightyears more advanced. The music is so sonically dense that it’s easy to overlook lines like “Is it a chemical that makes this moment true?” but when you catch them, you’re taken aback. The album’s full of ‘um.

Secondly, Ana Matronic seems to have disappeared almost completely. This is pretty depressing. As cute as lil’ Jake Shears is, Ana Matronic was truly the sex symbol of the band – the first female female impersonator. If she’s here, at all, it’s hard to get a grip on where. It reminds me of the second-half disappearance of Senior on Junior Senior’s sophomore disc. Maybe future listens will bear her out. I hope so.

And lastly – the album is super fucking dark. There’s an obsession with death that permeates the album. But not in a grim, Nick Cave-y way; in a joyous, Mexican Day-of-the-Dead, Oingo Boingo way. Take, for instance, the lyric (one of my favorites) from the jaunty “I Can’t Decide:” “I could throw you in the lake or fed you poisoned birthday cake.” I mean, that’s great. It’s dark and playful and not in the least bit serious. And the ballads/slow songs aren’t slow enough to bring the entire album to a screeching halt. As much as I love “Mary” and “Return to Oz,” they bring things down quickly and with much drama. It fucked with the flow. Everything here seems much more cohesive, thematic and otherwise. (This extends to the little bonus disc of B-sides that’s part of the ‘limited edition’ package’.)

Again – the inspiration is pretty apparent. “She’s My Man” is an ode to Elton John and the Pointer Sisters – all at once! “Lights” is almost a Chicago song, even if it contains the lyric “I ain’t got nothin’ but your seed on my face.” “Paul McCartney” captures perfectly the moment when disco got some new toys and turned into electro; and “The Other Side” and “Might Tell You Tonight” showcase the kind of oversized balladry that Meat Loaf pioneered (which reminds me – I’m really fucking pumped about “Bat Out of Hell III”). The exceptional thing is that all these influences and nods and odes equal up to a sound that’s all there own – in two albums the velveteen richness of the patented Scissor Sisters sound has been cemented, and the results are nothing short of stunning.


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