REVIEW: Scissor Sisters – Magic Hour

Artist: Scissor Sisters
Album: Magic Hour
Genre: Alternative rock, glam rock, nu-disco
Label: Casablanca

Personally, Scissor Sisters will always be synonymous with my first year in college. “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin” was a radio staple back then (it bothers me that six years have disappeared so quickly) and regularly tore up the nightclubs that played host to our new student bonding sessions. Yet, early success on this side of the Atlantic notwithstanding, they have been eerily quiet for a time and this new album seems to have arrived without the requisite fanfare. For all that they mightn’t always have lived up to the appeal fostered by their earliest work, Scissor Sisters are a shamelessly fun and commendably irreverent band, linking fans across genres and contentedly throwing convention to the wind in the construction of glitzy, decadent songs.

Magic Hour is, on first listen, a more subdued and possibly even cautious release than the three albums which precede it. This could reflect a growing maturity in their writing, yet there are plenty of brash and glamorous tracks in here to reflect the fusion of dance, disco, and pop for which they’ve oft been celebrated. However, these tracks tend to err on the side of understated and for every fiery declaration of intent, there’s a softer, more conceptual track that contrasts the glamour with style. Some songs borrow the heady sounds of yesteryear to craft thoughtful, meaningful odes with a spring in their step. The mixture of styles is a little alienating at times, but mostly serves to make the album more diverse than colourful, and it is executed well.

“Baby Come Home” is a breezy and laid-back introduction to the album, leading with a piano and warm, jovial musical refrains. It seems quite flashy and bright, yet the lyrics and considered vocal delivery hint at something more personal and intimate. There’s an air of longing beneath the glamorous facade which lingers throughout many of the softer tracks on Magic Hour. “Keep Your Shoes” is more stylised, reminiscent of their earlier, dance-infused tracks. It’s determined and raucous, but in a very streamlined manner – even on these rhythmic offerings, the band seem to temper their ambition somewhat, preferring to create a stirring mood and beat rather than drown the song in synthesisers. “Inevitable,” which follows, is a comedown from this impassioned track. Magic Hour does make a habit of bookending its glitzier tracks with something more considered and personal. This tends to defuse the album’s momentum and towards the end makes it seem uncertain or even unsettled. Yet, it also diversifies the album, and adds a reasoned heart and centre to its wilder moments. “Inevitable” has definite appeal, but its overly soft-focus sound can just as easily perplex as endear. The vocal harmonies of the chorus add some spark but there’s not enough colour or panache to let the track stand out.

Further along, the record casts off the self-conscious restraint of the earlier songs to embrace a livelier and more rugged sound. “Year of Living Dangerously” is a brilliant pick-me-up, vanquishing the damp refrains of the Keane-lite “Only the Horses” with an atmospheric and hazy opening that harkens back to the 80s. Jake Shears’ vocals are sombre and introspective, lending a reserved undertone to the expansive music. It matches the wry funk of the decade that inspired it to a more contemporary, methodical sensibility, and the gorgeous use of a violin in the latter segment adds a touch of the epic. “Let’s Have a Kiki” is infectiously fun. Sounding something like an escapee from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it remains shrewd and steady throughout with pompous vocals strutting over sharp and increasingly brazen musical samples. “Shady Love” has a touch of Adam Lambert about it. It takes things up a notch with more overtly dance-inspired music, yet the delightful air of detached vanity in the singing adds rhythm and glamour.

The final section is inconsistent, and lacks fluidity – “Best In Me” is too whimsical and vanilla for my tastes, but has a striking follow-up in “The Secret Life of Letters.” This grimmer, solemn track is more mainstream and chart-friendly than any other track on the album, yet its humanistic sound makes it more accessible. The instrumentation is deftly used, with strings and pianos orchestrated in a careful and enriching manner. “Somewhere” is an interesting but ultimately unconvincing track that mutes its rushing music and drums with deadpan vocals. It is perhaps best to look at it as a song of two halves – a rich, consuming chorus with edgier, exhilarating verses – though it’s nowhere near as memorable an ending to the record as it could have been.

Magic Hour is lacking in places, and could have sacrificed some of its running time for a more cohesive vision. There are, however, plenty of individual standouts here to warrant repeated listening, and although it doesn’t represent the band at their finest, it’s a warm reminder of their passion and ability.

SCORE: 7/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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