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|Scissor Sisters - Magic Hour Review|
|03-06-2012 12:09 | 0 comment(s)|
| When the word got out that the Scissor Sisters' fourth album would feature collaborations with producers like Calvin Harris, Diplo, the Neptunes and Boys Noize, it seemed safe to assume that we were in for the party-happy band's most danceable record yet. But no. Magic Hour is, in fact, the group's most low-key and ballad-centric album to date, with only a few cuts that approach the hyperactive, ultra-camp thrills of songs like "Filthy/Gorgeous", "Paul McCartney", and "Invisible Light".
It's a little unclear why the group drafted so many ringers to help write this record. Though the Calvin Harris-produced dance ballad "Only the Horses" retains some of the producer's delightfully cheesy house aesthetics, the other guest producers have dialed back their quirks considerably. This is disappointing. While the band's previous songwriting collaborations with Elton John and David Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar yielded tunes that fused those artists' immediately recognizable styles with the Sisters' distinct brand of 1970s pop pastiche, their collaborators end up getting swallowed by the band's well-defined style. It's hard to tell what Diplo brought to the moody, subdued "Year of Living Dangerously", and there is only a trace of the Neptune's signature sound in "Inevitable", a track that sounds like it ought to be playing faintly in the background of an overly fancy cocktail lounge.
While it is certainly admirable that the Scissor Sisters' creative vision is strong enough that they sound very much like themselves no matter who they work with, they really could have used a strong push from their collaborators this time around. Primary songwriters Jake Shears and Babydaddy are still very good with melody, but even the best material on Magic Hour-- the jaunty opener "Baby Come Home", the delightful club track "Keep Your Shoes On"-- lack the spark and exuberance of their earlier work.
The abundance of ballads doesn't help. Though Shears is quite good at singing them, they have never been the band's strong suit, and they seem to be aware of this, as those numbers never seem to stick around for long in their live show. The group always seem self conscious on their ballads, with Shears singing as though on his best behavior, and the band leaning on too-obvious reference points. The slow songs here aren't all a bust-- "Year of Living Dangerously" builds to a satisfyingly melodramatic peak and "Inevitable" has an appealing glamor. But the duds are very difficult to sit through, particularly the bland "Secret Life of Letters" and the trite, excessively sentimental "Best in Me".
Magic Hour is more effective on a thematic level. Shears has spent the past decade tweaking the familiar sentiment and sound of classic pop to reflect the specific dynamics, quirks, kinks, and rites of passage of queer culture. He focuses on the issue of fidelity in this set, with several songs tackling the emotional complications of what Dan Savage calls a "monogamish" relationship. "Baby Come Home" nails this right off the bat, as Shears sings from the perspective of a man who is just fine with his partner getting action all night long, but is anxious to get him back in his arms. The music is bright and perky, letting on both a happy acceptance of his partner's freedom as well as the impatience of his desire. It's the most inspired cut on the record, and also the one that feels the most familiar. This is exactly the sort of song that comes most naturally to Shears and Babydaddy, and its presence among stodgy, over-written mid-tempo cuts and awkward stabs at hip-hop like the Azealia Banks collab "Shady Love" hangs a lantern on the notion that maybe this time around the band spent too much of its time overthinking the material and denying its best instincts.
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