Album review submitted by Philip Lickley. If you would like to contribute to All-Noise, send your reviews to [email protected]
Scissor Sisters – Magic Hour
Buy: Magic Hour
Scissor Sisters are a band that have certainly entered the public consciousness with their, mostly, uptempo singles with songs such as ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ and ‘Laura’ regularly making the radio playlists. And though third album lead single ‘Fire With Fire’ was widely heard, album Night Work didn’t quite get the best reviews, though it did have its fair share of big songs.
Though I hate to say the phrase ‘this is their return to form’, this is their return to form. Magic Hour is a much perkier, poppier album with more stand out tracks than their third long player. It kicks off with ‘Just Come Home’, a very promising starting song with a piano riff straight out of ‘Laura’, but also mixing in Daft Punk-style synths and with a nod towards Steps album track ‘Buzzz’. Returning to their catchy, camp sound with retro and choral influences, there is a distinct disco feel that makes this a powerful opener.
Follow up ‘Keep Your Shoes On’ is more like their newer style, sounding in parts like cancelled first single ‘Shady Love’ with a more electronic and autotuned focus. The repetitive nature of the chorus and the production-distressed vocal hook make this enjoyable to hear, a sort of track that sounds like the lads from Sparks are playing Space Invaders.
Third song ‘Inevitable’ is a slower ballad with a thumping bass beat that sees Jake Shears in full falsetto power, making it the third quality chorus in a row. Feeling rather chilled-out with a nice bassline, it continues the strong opening of the album and the concluding backing vocals become the icing on the cake, rounding off a song with accomplished production and synth lines.
Lead single ‘Only the Horses’ follows. It’s much clubbier than you’d expect from a Scissor Sisters single but, considering it’s produced by Calvin Harris, doesn’t sound too much like his other work. The song boasts another strong chorus and it’s a track that’s quick to snare you in with its hooks.
‘Year of Living Dangerously’ comes in fifth and it’s a song that’s unafraid to display its swelling instrumentation. It’s like a recording of first album track ‘Mary’ if they had been obsessed with sound effects on records back then, but it is a feature throughout the album that works. They’ve found a winning formula and stuck with it. Throw in a smooth silky string section and it’s a much more mature song than expected from the Scissor Sisters, but it’s a maturity that doesn’t last long with the next song ‘Let’s Have A Kiki’. Beginning with the sound of an answer phone and some bitchy messages and casual swearing it’s clear this maturity has gone for a break. A series of vocally-altered messages lasting over one-minute over a beat goes on too long. Though the song itself, sort of an explicit Avalanches with jungle-esque music, is very much different to the rest and brings a refreshing element to the record, it does sound like a song sung by a piece of dodgy voice recognition software. It works for what they want to achieve and is a welcome distraction but sits awkwardly on the album.
The first song to be debuted from the album, ‘Shady Love’, is definitely a more experimental song that I initially hated on first listen but becomes a grower, even if the addition of sound effects to cover the swearing on the single version makes the record slightly better and kookier than this album version. The rapping is a little bit off-putting but the chorus invades your head with its simplicity and Azealia Banks’ contribution is far better than her solo stuff and really lifts the track. Its competing elements work well together and it’s a definite grower though the song is let down by some elements of Jake Shears rapping – he makes Robbie seem proficient – and daft lines such as “Let me feel all of her boobies” and “My tease, your tease, he sneeze” don’t help – but the synth and drum machine work is top class.
‘San Luis Obispo’ is a jaunty sunny Caribbean hit that sounds like a cross between a track from the musical Hairspray and a Nintendo video game tune. Musically interesting and continuing the SFX style it’s not the most exciting track on the album and is a bit wishy-washy but does grow on you with each listen, even if it does at first sound like a demo track you’d make on a cheap Argos keyboard.
‘Self Control’ is a more electronic downbeat tune that again doesn’t really stand up to the early part of the album but from a production point of view it’s interesting though it does outstay its welcome. Happily ‘Best In Me’ follows, and this laid-back ballad comes alive with the overlaid vocals near the end and the lyrics are well written and is a successful continuing point of the album and brings the level up again, making it the second best ballad on the record.
‘The Secret Life of Letters’ that comes next is perhaps a little pondering more than heart felt but does have a nice ethereal ending and works as a near-closer. The true ending track ‘Somewhere’ is heavily autotuned but does boast a catchy backing beat and a speedy, enjoyable flow and is a thumbs up album closer.
As I’d purchase the deluxe album I was treated to four bonus tracks. ‘Ms. Matronic’s Magic Message’ is short and pointless and seemingly only serves to boost her voice time on the album. ‘Fuck Yeah’ has Jake Shears bringing out his Robbie rapping again over a throbbing electronic tune that certainly overpowers his vocals though the combination does sound great for what you can understand. It’s a little overproduced and feels like a bonus track at first but its appeal soon grows and becomes more of a highlight of the album.
The DJ Nita Remix of ‘Let’s Have A Kiki’ follows and I’m not sure why I’d want to hear a seven minute remix of a track that I didn’t particularly enjoy for four minutes, especially when the vocals don’t appear until two minutes in. The whole song plays out over the same beat with random sound effects and words scattered through like a nightmare meets a headache. Definitely skippable.
The bonus tracks are brought to an end with the Seamus Haji Remix of ‘Fuck Yeah’, a more worthwhile remix inclusion. I’m not entirely sure how different it is except you can hear the lyrics better than on the original but it does bring the chorus alive a little bit more and has a better beat than the original, so worth an appearance.
Overall Magic Hour is a much more consistent album than Night Work with a bigger collection of catchy, uptempo tunes which mix vocal and instrumental hooks with some fun sound experiments. The bonus disc is mostly pointless so just get the original, and the album does flag a little two thirds in, but the first half of the album stands up tall and is a good proclamation for the abilities of the Scissor Sisters to make enjoyable electro pop with catchy choruses.