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Scissor Sisters
Night Work Iain Moffat , July 7th, 2010 05:57

As second albums go, Ta-Dah may not quite be up there with Neither Fish Nor Flesh or The Menace. But it's certainly left Scissor Sisters so substantially on the back foot that it's become bizarrely difficult to recall just how much they actually brought to the party in the first place. That it was loads makes this state of affairs all the more tragic. They were, after all, the only band to take the promises of electroclash and turn them into bona fide chart-topping dayglo flesh, and there's not been another band since that have taken advantage of the festival season to so utterly annihilate all skepticism. Not to mention the fact that they took songs that would have seemed transgressive even half a decade earlier and turned them into hen party staples - on a social and political level, that's clearly cause for celebration (even if, conversely, it also made the subsequent militancy of, say, Kids On TV or Ste McCabe all the more welcome). How on earth are they going to recapture all of that?

Not with ‘Fire With Fire’, that's for sure, since it smacks of the kind of moribund corporacy relentlessly enthused about by Jonathan King in his Entertainment USA years. Unexpectedly, it also joins the pantheon of songs that strive for universality with unforgivable cynicism – yes, 'Rock Star', 'I'm Yours', 'Bad Day', the whole Blunt canon et al, we're looking at you. Still, just as the effortlessly jubilant sheen of 'I Don't Feel Like Dancing' was no preparation for the album that surrounded it, so this proves to be a colossal red herring – a high-risk strategy, certainly, but one that renders the moments of excellence that unfold after the early, hesitant foot-finding all the more surprising.

It's only when we get to 'Any Which Way' that Night Work truly comes alive. Welcomed aboard by a klaxon call and buoyed along by sleekly shadow-boxing bass, wolf-whistling keyboards and delirious Bee Gee trembles, we get the first full indication of the album's two defining characteristics. Firstly, the Sisters are strongly harking bark to the dancefloors of 1981 or 82 in a manner that most of the synth-revivalism of the age has chosen to sidestep. We're looking at an era when mutant disco was in full flower (in fact, Ana's performance here is pure Tom Tom Club) and the robustness of early electro and bacchanalian stridency of proto-hi-NRG were beginning to coalesce. Secondly, they've made by far their most priapic record yet. Sometimes it can be almost, well, fumbling in its execution (though it's to Jake's credit that he raises the requisite audacity to deliver a line like "I want you to funk me / your battleship has sunk me") but it's generally parlayed with a genuine sense of wonder and a revivingly attractive wickedness.

Perhaps even more importantly, there's seldom the suggestion that this was ever a struggle, in spite of the fact that its genesis by all accounts involved a crisis of confidence and a total reworking, and so we're treated to a Kraftwerk homage (a snatch of 'Radioactivity' that infects the swish metronomy of 'Something Like This') that brilliantly illuminates the sheer lostness of Coldplay, a skilfully 'Purple Rain'-styled Princely performance from Shears on 'Skintight', and some remarkable guitar courtesy of Del on the oddly contemporary 'Running Out' that shifts wildly from prime Banshees to early Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Plus, the home strait features a brace of absurdly valedictory tracks: 'Sex And Violence' backs up some Moroderian burbling and scandal-alluding piano a la East Side Beat's rave rejig of 'Ride Like The Wind' with the out-of-phase invitational wobble of Soft Cell at their most ecstatic and the same astray-aesthete air conjured by Neil Tennant in 'Left To My Own Devices'. The phenomenal all-or-nothing finale 'Invisible Light' lurches headlong into the more pretentious end of their roots, constructs a mountain range out of mirrorballs, posits the query as to what deep house would have sounded like if Trevor Horn had invented it, and, in a wondrous nod to Tom Baker's turn on Mansun's 'Six', ends with a breathtakingly ludicrous speech from Sir Ian McKellen. Yes, he does say, "whose laser gaze penetrates this sparkling theatre of excess?"; if you're going to get Gandalf on board, you might as well make the most of it...

Indeed, Night Work at its best is a terrific exploration of opportunities that might have no longer been expected to arise, so much so that its commercial prospects, so often an issue for bands who've known such heights, are scarcely the concern here: a career of records for mothers could've beckoned, but instead, at last, the Sisters sound like they're once again doing this for themselves.