Album Review: Scissor Sisters – Magic Hour
When hip, flamboyant New York pop act Scissor Sisters propelled themselves into the big-time back in 2004, they did so on the back of a debut album packed full of insatiable, funky and unashamedly camp dancefloor-fillers – the kind of tunes that anchor themselves into your internal playlist on the very first listen, and then proceed to bounce around inside your consciousness for months afterwards.
Eight years on and several albums later, however, it seems that their powers have notably waned. The band’s latest full-length release, Magic Hour, musters no anthem to match the early, feel-good highs of Laura, Take Your Mama Out or the second record’s smash-hit I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’, nor anything as clever or as delightfully cheeky as the electro reworking of Comfortably Numb that first brought them to prominent attention.
Whereas Scissor Sisters used to conjure up a decidedly retro yet ultimately influential line in exuberant, sassy and outrageous pop, these days they’re too-often veering down the road of awkward experimentation or else – at the other extreme – aping the least-inspired output of more recent mainstream artists.
There are some real mis-steps here. The early appearance of Keep Your Shoes On baffles with its offbeat techno-pop: like Mr Oizo mashed with sleazy R&B. It’s very weird, if oddly sensual at the same time.
At the other end of the scale is hammy dance single Only The Horses – produced by Calvin Harris – which feels so staggeringly lightweight that it beggars belief. It’s a cheesy, formulaic and painfully bland dancefloor ‘anthem’: a clone of any number of throwaway Saturday night, Radio 1 going-out tunes, crucially devoid of the sass and sultriness that has previously made Jake Shears and co. so much fun.
Elsewhere, Shady Love is a confused cacophony of contemporary R&B and pop that only finds its way briefly at the very end, optimistic ballad Best In Me is pleasant enough but fairly pedestrian, and Let’s Have A Kiki feels like a fun two-minute gag stretched out for far too long.
Then there’s the slightly mis-judged madness of bonus track Fuck Yeah. Coming off like the Black Eyed Peas on acid, it’s a little bit bonkers really, and though this injection of classic Scissor Sisters eccentricity is welcome, it’s also all over the place tonally.
Fortunately, there are some solid moments that redeem the album somewhat. Somewhere is perhaps the strongest cut – an instantly enjoyable blend of rippling synth, vibrant beats and pleasing guitar peals, with an uplifting chorus that hits just the right spot.
Then there’s upbeat Latino-infused gem San Luis Obispo, its strumming guitar, obscenely catchy rhythms and Shears’ spot-on vocals combining to winning effect, while melancholy piano-driven lament The Secret Life Of Letters possesses an eerie, otherworldly and touchingly heartfelt quality that also secures it as a highlight.
Sadly though, for the most part Magic Hour is anything but: only hitting the right notes sporadically throughout its 50-minute duration.
It is this inconsistency that ultimately proves its greatest failing. The album is a maddening mix of outlandish curiosities, derivative filler and enjoyable yet safe pop – with only a few standout tracks rescuing it from total irrelevance.
At times Scissor Sisters prove they’ve still got the power to entertain. But this largely unfocused and slightly incoherent collection of tracks suggests that the band’s finest hour may already have been and gone.
FMV Rating: **