The chief weapons of the Scissor Sisters are sexy disco, X-rated outfits and twisted lyrics.
A new album, out last week, comes hot on the heels of the first dates of a global tour bringing zany club culture to a stage near you all too soon.
The band’s mission is to win over the world, with large parts of Europe already under the spell of its good-time glamour and only its U.S. homeland waiting to be conquered.
Judging by the opening shows, it’s not so certain the Sisters will succeed in going mainstream. In the past, camp outrage has been too much for some parts of America. Eyebrows are raised over the lead singers: Ana Matronic’s erotic moves and Jake Shears’s readiness to let his clothes fall off.
This time around, the Sisters are pretending to be a real rock band. Trouble is, that by casting aside the usual party paraphernalia, they are throwing away the “must see” status.
Previously the riotous music was matched by stage costumes to make (sometime collaborator) Elton John seem like a wall flower. For the London opening concert at the O2 Academy Brixton, the band was dressed in serious black and Matronic’s PVC dress was knee length.
Shears at least has spray-on jeans and outdoes “Bruno” in the finale. His posterior-airing blue and orange outfit, a cross between a mankini and lederhosen, would cause riots in some states. (For his Glastonbury appearance, he was a little more glamorous, wearing a snug outfit with strategic rips. The band was joined by Kylie Minogue for “Any Which Way.”)
The music matches the new image. Old favorites like “Laura” acquire a new edge that is not entirely becoming. Disco beats are weighed down with faux rock gravitas. The high pitched vocals lack the helium high-jinks of their Bee Gees inspiration.
Endure this, and you also find moments of excellence. The screamingly disco cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” is still a work of wayward genius. “Take Your Mama Out” remains a touchingly personal and gloriously inclusive gay pop anthem.
Then it’s back to a glut of unknown songs from the new album, all poorly played and with even worse guitar solos (although they may improve with practice).
“Harder You Get”, devoid of the filth present on its recorded version, becomes dangerously like Dire Straits (although thankfully, unlike Shears, Mark Knopfler is not known for taking his top off mid-song). When the middle-eight of “Whole New Way” accidentally reveals its debt to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” the comparison is especially unfortunate.
The Scissor Sisters foursome can be magnificent party animals. As a rock band, they're simply dull.
Rating: ** at best.
The Scissor Sisters tour includes festivals in Sweden, Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan.
The album “Night Work” is out on Polydor/ Universal priced from $10 or 8 pounds. Download fees vary across services. Information: http://www.scissorsisters.com
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)