On their last album, Scissor Sisters were the little band that could. Campy anthems like “Take Your Mama,” and the Pink Floyd cover “Comfortably Numb” (perhaps the best piece of deconstruction this decade), resurrected the more dubious parts of the 70s, but their outrÇ charm and jingly melodies were irresistible nonetheless.
At least now, it seems the party’s over. Ta-Dah (conspicuously missing the exclamation point) is buoyant and insouciant. However, it is surprisingly visceral. Sex is all over it, and like a good disco, it hides in the crevices beneath the shining lights and horrible music.
Even the best song is a paradox. “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” co-written by Sir Elton John, tries to advocate just what it can’t: there’s no way something this bouncy, with a rollicking barroom piano, could ever tell us, “Why’d you pick a tune when I’m not in the mood?” Even when singer Jake Shears becomes a killer on “I Can’t Decide,” his hummable chorus belies his deep, dark pain.
Scissor Sisters isn’t the first band to try sinister, and they won’t be the last. Subtlety is not a strong point in a band that prefers leather jumpsuits, so why try it? Philosophizing in disco music will never work: lyrics are too superfluous. That was the genius of their first album. Being funny and tongue-in-cheek compensated for most of the songs (save for the chorus) being pointless. On Ta-Dah there is no “Tits on the Radio,” sounding just like it reads, instead there are songs that are interesting despite themselves.
For a band that has made a career loving their influences, they try too hard to tone them down. Sir Elton clearly took notice of their love of his piano-pop, and helped them write their best song, but too often they’re just smug. Elton’s piano dominates the song, but on the other tracks, it’s relegated to the rhythm section, and without its over-the-top femininity, nothing sounds useful.
They’ve chosen genres like Broadway ditties and even ragtime, and while their refreshed new-wave is entertaining, the rest is unoriginal, it’s boring.
To most it won’t even matter. The material is so danceable and catchy its flaws are invisible. Jake Shears’ falsetto surprisingly never grates, and “Babydaddy” knows how to bend the acoustic guitar to his whims.
Two-thirds of the way through, during “Paul McCartney,” Shears self-diagnoses his problem, singing, “Is it the music that connects me to you?” For a band trying to become serious, it hasn’t just yet.