CD Review of Ta-Dah by Scissor Sisters

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starstarstarstarno star Label: Universal/Motown
Released: 2006
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ALSO: Don't miss David's interview with Scissor Sisters bassist/keyboardist Babbydaddy.

When your group consists of a bunch of very, um, stylish men from New York who play tricked-out dance pop in a mope rock world, the absolute last thing that you ever want to deal with is expectations. When the Scissor Sisters – and let me just say it right here: they have one of the best logos in music history – dropped their eponymous debut in 2004, it came with no strings attached. They had no real goals to meet, venues to fill, RIAA certifications to acquire, none of that. A year later, that little Elton John-riffing pop band was an international phenomenon, securing a massive fan base in England and even opening up some dates for Duran Duran and their idol Sir Elton himself. Welcome to the sophomore album, guys (and girl). Are you ready for it?

Of course they weren’t. Their time in the studio the first time around was merely a lark, something they did without knowing (or caring) if anyone would be hip to it. This time around, they’re actually working with Elton John instead of paying tribute to him. And if Ta-Dah, the band’s follow-up, doesn’t sound as instantly accessible as their spunky debut, it may be because of those raised expectations that you didn’t even know you had. But here’s the thing: the album is actually better than their debut. No, really, it is.

It’s strange to think of Ta-Dah as a sneaky listen when it practically leaps out of the gate with “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” which is the most danceable song ever written about not wanting to dance, and “She’s My Man,” the naughtiest Pointer Sisters song ever (the song’s actually about a murderous female New Orleans pirate that dressed like a man). Imagine if “I’m So Excited” had the following lyric: “As I lie between these covers / I wanna tell her that I love it / When she chokes me in the backseat of her riverboat ‘cause / She’s my man, and we got all the balls we need.” Freaky deaky, and stupid catchy.

The theatrical element to the band’s music is decidedly more pronounced this time around. “I Can’t Decide” is the kind of thing that Rufus Wainwright might write on an upbeat day, but only after being force-fed some serious happy meds. “Pleasing everyone isn’t like you / Dancing jigs until I’m crippled / Slug ten drinks I won’t get pickled.” Singer Jake Shears is making quite a name for himself as a lyricist here, and to sweeten the deal, the song contains Gina Gershon playing…the Jews harp. No joke. “Land of a Thousand Words” is this album’s “Mary,” the show-stopping ballad that is like Elton John covering “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (That’s a good thing, if you weren’t sure.), while “Intermission” is a Vaudevillian romp that boasts Sir Elton on piano and Van Dyke Parks providing the string arrangement. The band may appear on the surface to be all about the party, but there are some serious smarts at work here.

Indeed, before you think the band’s gone all Radiohead on us and forgotten their core strengths, may I present “Kiss You Off,” female singer Ana Matronic’s Debbie Harry (or possibly Amii Stewart) moment propelled by a jammin’ disco-rock 6/4 beat that was radio gold in a bygone era. Believe it or not, it sounds shockingly fresh here, as does the ebullient “Paul McCartney,” which sounds more like Robert Palmer’s “Looking for Clues” than Macca. And then there’s “The Other Side,” a moody track that recalls ‘80s café popsters Icehouse (or maybe Johnny Hates Jazz, though I’m not ready to admit that yet). They even tack on a quote from Judy Garland at the song’s end, lest you’ve forgotten which team the Sisters play for.

The band’s influences are clear and have always been, not that there’s anything wrong with that (pardon the pun), but with Ta-Dah, the Scissor Sisters are now rising above them to come up with something all their own. Shears has grown as a lyricist by leaps and bounds, and musical director Babydaddy is wisely broadening the band’s horizons. Is it possible that the Scissor Sisters are this generation’s Pet Shop Boys? One can only hope, but Ta-Dah is a hell of a convincing argument in the affirmative.

~David Medsker