Album Review: Scissor Sisters – Night Work

“Moderation in all things” is one of those sayings that is easier said than done, especially in the realm of pop music. Songs about drinking to excess filled the airwaves last year from Lady GaGa’s “Just Dance” to Katy Perry’s “Waking Up In Vegas” to, oh, just about every song T-Pain got his hands on. These songs act as a sort of exoneration of our inner desire to get blindingly drunk and see where our salacious weaknesses take us. Those in addition to faded hits like “Tipsy”, “In Da Club”, and the newish “Blame It” and LMFAO’s parodic “Shots” are ubiquitous at rural and urban clubs these summer nights, all touting booze above all. Now I’m anything but a prude, but I mainly avoid clubs that play this kind of music-you know the ones I’m talking about-and not because of the songs themselves. Individually, these songs are fine. But back to back all through the night it becomes about hedonism to the full extent, without respite: just drink until you can’t see straight anymore. It’s stimulus overload in every sense of the word, disorientation at the cost of serious endurance and no small amount of dignity and self-respect.

Now, you can’t say Scissor Sisters have ever been known for their moderation. The camp and kitsch of their first two albums are a large part of what makes them so enjoyable. Whether it’s Elton John’s piano pop, Bee Gees’ disco, or everything we loved and hated about George Michael, Scissor Sisters are known to wear many hats. They’ve always been playfully pastiche with a delicate balance of promiscuous hedonism and sexual agency, like a drunken beauty at a bar who casually quotes Judith Butler. And now, after a four year absence, Scissor Sisters return with Night Work, effectively curb-stomping the adage “moderation in all things” with a leather boot. Getting to the end of this album is like somehow making it to last call at one of those clubs. You’re disoriented, your stare is a thousand yards long, your euphoria is oppressive, and you’ve got the seeds of what you know is going to be a biblical headache.

With ease, you can point out the culprit of this unwelcome monotony: new producer Stuart Price. If you would have told me six years ago that Scissor Sisters would eventually meld into a sound that’s like The Killers meets New Order, I would have slapped you in the face. But alas, here we are with tracks such as “Skin Tight” and “Fire With Fire”, which have arena-disco written all over them. Both are bursting at the seams with anthemic synth and on the latter track, lead singer Jake Shears croons all too much like Brandon Flowers (or worse, Cher) “And now we’re free to be number one/the morning isn’t far away/I had a dream we were holding on/and tomorrow has become today.” Clunker lyrics like this pepper the record, and where once there was alchemy between the funky two-step feel and campy lyrics of their previous efforts, here the chemistry fizzles, and we’re left with a face similar to that of one after a shot of Patron.

Missing on Night Work is any moment of relief. The party rages on and the speakers pound as Shears, Ana Matronic and the rest of the Scissor Sisters nudge you down a primrose path into a night of debauchery. The constant barrage of discotheque and double entendres has you begging for a way out, and that’s the album’s undoing. Let’s break it down real quick:

Songs on Night Work: 12
Songs ostensibly about partying/dancing: 6
Songs ostensibly about sexual intercourse: 6
Songs that clock in under 120 beats per minute: 2
Of those, songs that are ballads: 0

Now, if there’s one thing Scissor Sisters do well it’s ballads. Previous down-shifters “Mary” and “Land Of A Thousand Words” were standouts on their respective albums. They allowed room to get a sip of water, relax, and enjoy a delicious torch song. It showed a chink in the glossy armor of the other tracks, added meaning to the sex, and allowed a moment to throw up a Zippo for Christ’s sake. But Night Work offers nothing of the sort, leaving us the daunting task of looking for subtlety in an album that begs to be anything but.

Each song propels the album further into the aimless and lusty night. If a song has a unique feel, it comes with well-worn subject matter. “Harder You Get” uses electric guitars effectively, but it’s too tinged with a Right Said Fred ego to be taken seriously. “Skin This Cat” strays down engaging new-wave territories and sports avant synth work, but I’ll give you one guess as to what eye-rolling euphemism the song employs. And any amount of liberal sexual agency Scissor Sisters look to acquire throughout the songs of Night Work is all but negated by Sir Ian McKellen’s talk-down on “Invisible Light”. It is downright laughable, though I guess appropriately over-excessive.

Only does the sentiment in “Running Out” come close to expressing the pitfalls of the hedonistic life-style the Scissor Sisters seem so bent on sharing with us this time around.

It’s clear though that this is where the Scissor Sisters want to head, as they don’t even try to hide the fact that they’re making the music they want to make. “Night Work is really us boiled down to who we are. It feels quintessentially us,” said Shears. Sure we were wary of your tricks before, but at least there was variety. If this is the pith of your essence, can you please go back to pretending you’re still looking for it?

In the end, Night Work suffers because the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. Each track is a microwavable single ready to go. They are well produced, have catchy hooks, and are club-ready and enjoyable. But stacked end to end, the Scissor Sisters’ sentiment wears you down, track after track, drink after drink, until you’re left dazed and confused. This kind of relentless onslaught leaves behind Scissor Sisters’ smart novelty and chic variety and places in its stead a sweaty, sticky, cologne-soaked mess that spent too much time on the dance floor. We probably won’t be hearing Night Work at those aforementioned clubs this summer, but if you want a taste of either, you know where to look.


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