Since the release of their self-titled debut in 2004 Scissor Sisters have successfully maintained their reputation as a glamorous, albeit racy troupe. An immediate affiliation with the mainstream has not prevented their leftfield fans from clinging on, either by camp coattails or the need to fill a pop quota.
Magic Hour does much to reinforce this, offering collaborations with Calvin Harris, Diplo, Azealia Banks and Pharrell Williams, alongside a more typical Scissor Sisters sound. However while many of the songs provide bang-on contemporary computer glitches and shivers, their self-branded label of “future pop” is misleading. Some of these songs rely more heavily on known ’80s influences, bashing around names like Elton John and George Michael like their music always has done. Magic Hour is less an extreme progression, more Ana Matronic at dusk with a margarita.
Introducing their audience to this deception, opening track ‘Baby Come Home’ has all the classic trademarks of the band. The return is welcomed by a high-pitched, cerebral gospel chorus and stereotypical yet essential Jake Shears at his best, with boozy piano honky-tonk providing the driving force of the song. ‘Inevitable’ introduces some Pharrell-style noises to the background, but the foreground has Shears and Ana Matronic matching their falsetto vocals with an insanely catchy chorus and melody. As strong as fan favourite ‘Filthy/Gorgeous’, the song could easily have been lifted from a ’90s Now compilation, but it doesn’t fail to strut the hell out of Scissor Sisters’ walk.
Sticking with what they know does not always pay off, with Magic Hour occasionally taking a turn for the worse under this direction. ‘Only the Horses’ sounds like a cover version of wannabe Scissor Sisters band Hurts. The New Yorkers have never shied away from cheese, and often that’s what makes them the Kings and Queens of glitter-flinging arena pop, but this song dashes across the line and flings itself at the wall of Absolutely Do Not Go There. The soaring mirror ball keyboards are undoubtedly the song’s poison. ‘San Luis Obispo’ suffers from a similar affliction, launching Shears from centre stage to a tequila party occupied by Wham rejects.
Other aspects of the album are sonically more interesting. ‘Keep Your Shoes On’ and ‘Shady Love’ are particularly high-tech, testing new ground and substantiating the band’s claims of a new direction. Unfortunately under scrutiny both fall short, sounding rather like ‘Goodies’ era Ciara, putting a lid on any claims of advanced thinking. Despite that they’re undoubtedly destined for primetime radio play.
Fortunately, the glaring mishaps are outshone by the album’s genuine fervour for breaking boundaries. Lest we forget, that has always been Scissor Sisters’ forte. Although it sounds like a misplaced classed penned by Michael Jackson circa 1985, ‘Year of Living Dangerously’ still retains that futuristic identity the band have been pummelling into their press. At the very least, it proves Scissor Sisters have modern day songwriting talents comparable to our greatest pop stars. Despite a slightly tedious introduction on ‘Let’s Have Kiki’, the track becomes a crossover of Rocky Horror Show and M.I.A., before kicking into ‘Shady Love’ with an almighty pow! Echoes of this era nonchalance can be found throughout Magic Hour, mixing pop from across the decades with a cutting-edge production.
Far from being a cheap or tacky gimmick of a band, with Magic Hour Scissor Sisters prove they can produce top quality, high end material. The trick they need to learn to stick to is to never, ever put a lid on their outrageous behaviour, because when they do we end up with something that sounds like it’s been fished out of a bargain bin.