Scissor Sisters wastes big-name talent (including their own) on ‘Magic Hour’
The Scissor Sisters aren’t particularly shy about proudly embroidering a pastiche of campy influences upon their sleeves. There’s nothing wrong with that … when it works. When firing on all cylinders, the group produces an ecstatic celebration of all things campy, disco-y and dance-y. Which is to say, they celebrate the huge influence gay culture has had on pop music — an influence that, despite certain amounts of recognition, has never really been given its due.
When it first broke, disco was met with a wave of derision and contempt (some of it quite violent, as in the record-burning frenzy at Disco Demolition Night in Chicago’s Komiskey Park in 1979, where nearly 60,000 people set a pyre of disco records in a blur of beer, spittle and vitriol.) Self-ordained “defenders” of “real” music, the Disco Sucks movement may have seemed comical at the time, but, as writer Ben Myers recently wrote, “the unspoken subtext was obvious: disco music was for homosexuals and black people.” In the ’70s, ’80s and even much of the ’90s, that was not a compliment, and as disco morphed into other styles of dance music, homophobic and racist derision segregated disco from “serious” popular music (as if there ever were such a thing).
It’s all the more delicious, then, for us to find out that the Scissor Sisters latest album, Magic Hour, features collaborations with such hugely influential and respected artists as Diplo, Azealia Banks, Calvin Harris, Pharrell Williams and Alex Ridha — some of today’s brightest talents in dance/pop/hip-hop. Those slashes are intentional; as house music continues to impress upon hip-hop, and hip-hop continues to act as the primary musical influence in American culture, the three remain interlocked, carrying the legacy of disco into the mainstream —sweet revenge on the Disco Suck-ers.
With such a pedigree of old-school and vanguard melding, Magic Hour could have — should have — lived up to its potential as the ultimate genre mash-up. Instead, the album disappoints on many fronts.
At first, it works. The initial track, “Baby Come Home,” is a poppy jaunt through gay dance territory, based on a funky little Elton John-type piano riff with top notes of Wham! melodies and disco falsettos. Sisters recall much of that old-school Elton with their raw abandon to dive emphatically into their dance tracks. It introduces an air of optimism.
The buzz fades quickly, however. Track 2, “Keep Your Shoes,” tries to keep it Prince-funky but can’t commit, and as the record unfolds, it becomes clear that Jake Shears and Babydaddy (the primary songwriters in the band) have failed to take advantage of the stable of talent onboard. Instead, they rely perplexingly on a handful of ballads, begging the question, “If the hired hands have masterminded several of the past decade’s best high-tempo dancefloor bangers, why waste these talents on a slow jam?”
Still, the high points are hopeful, and point toward a direction where the hybrid dance genre is going. The Harris and Ridha-produced “Only the Horses” finds that addictive little groove which holds house and disco together, where the intermingling of organic sound (simple, effective piano chords) and digital (tight drum machine beats and dancefloor-friendly synth lines) bob and weave around Shears’ soaring vocals. (It’s no surprise this is the album’s lead single.)
“Only the Horses” is disco-y and house-y, yes, and in that it is the sound of the past. It also is the sound of the future, one in which music “for homosexuals and black people” rules the airwaves instead of being ridiculed on them. Yet it bears the burden of being one of too few strong tracks on here; it’s unfortunate that the rest of Magic Hour doesn’t quite make it there.
— Jonana Widner
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 22, 2012.