The Scissor Sisters’ “Night Work” (2010) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

In this age of increasing separation between genres, particularly alternative (i.e. music comprised of basic rock instruments) and experimental/indie (i.e. that relying on dance beats, synthesized instruments, and other technology), the Scissor Sisters are one of the few acts cutting through all those distinctions without compromising their sound.

On the one hand, Night Work is hard-core dance music, drawing largely from instruments that require programming.  One look at their attire would be enough to mistakenly situate this band in the heart of the eighties.  With names like Jake Shears, Ana Matronic, Babydaddy (who handles the aforementioned programming), and Del Marquis, it might be difficult to take the Scissor Sisters as anything more than a fun, even a novelty, act.

However, this would be a misguided reaction.  It would be folly to minimize their craft, weaving in strong rock components — like Marquis’ guitars — and complex harmonies as they do.  There are moments of pure rock bliss, electric solos being delivered over a bed of other accompaniments, drums being layered in at all the right moments, and additional sounds like strings — synthesized though they may be — accenting the arrangements in all the right places.

This is what is perhaps most impressive about Night Work: it is an exceedingly busy album, with little opportunity for the listener to become bored with the instrumentation or the vocal deliveries, and yet I would hesitate to label it as overproduced.  If anything, the Scissor Sisters have embraced this set of instruments and aren’t afraid to fill their tracks to the brim with all manner of sounds.

Night Work cover (Scissor Sisters, 2010)

Night Work cover (Scissor Sisters, 2010)

This is certainly the band’s most overtly sexual album, a release characterized by provocative phrasings, erotic voice-overs, and carnal beats.  It’s difficult to interpret such lines as “grabbing apples” or doing it “in front of my parents” otherwise, and, with titles like “Skintight” and “Sex and Violence,” it doesn’t seem as though we are being invited to read such lyricism at a deeper level.

There is something to be said for such openness.  At first, I wasn’t sure how to take this album.  I certainly enjoyed it from the first listen onward, but I wasn’t sure if these were provocative songs or songs that simply went for the “shock” factor.  After multiple returns to this record, I find it difficult to view it as anything other than a brilliant collection of songs.  The tracks are smartly arranged, and the shift from “Night Work” (track one) to “Night Life” (the penultimate track) can be read in a number of ways, not least of which as a study of the seamier side of human nature.

Lyrically sharp — “opiate utopia,” “I had a dream we were holding on / And tomorrow has become today,” “Sex and violence / Never let you see them / Hand in hand / And one is just the other / The softest touch is / Deeper than the ocean” — and thematically tight, Night Work is an impressive third effort, making good on all the promise of their debut and all the progression of Ta-Dah!

So, chalk this one up to the “don’t judge a book by its cover” cliche.  If a man grabbing his tight-adorned backside was enough to dissuade you from giving this one a listen, take this as a warning not to miss out on one of the strongest albums of the year.  It sounds modern and yet retro, intelligent and yet sensual, poppy yet with a strong basis in basic rock.

There aren’t many things like this, so run out and have a listen.

The Weekend Review: May 2012 Report

By Chris Moore:

Strangeland (Keane)

Producer: Dan Grech-Marguerat

Released: May 4, 2012

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “You Are Young” & “Sovereign Light Café”

For better or for worse, it has been confirmed time and again since their debut that Keane is a good song.  Strangeland continues the trend, and though there are certainly a handful of standouts, the first three tracks set the tone and pace for what is left to come.  There are other piano-based bands that have released more innovative material – Jukebox the Ghost, for instance – and why Keane has taken the leap to such tremendous fame and success (five consecutive number one albums, among other achievements) is still a mystery to me.




Rize of the Fenix (Tenacious D)

Producer: John Kimbrough & John King

Released: May 11, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “39” & “Classical Teacher”

What was the first sign Tenacious D are back with a new album and ready to rock?  The penis, testicles, and wings of fire on the cover were pretty much a dead giveaway…  It would be easy to dismiss half-rock/half-comedy duo Jack Black and Kyle Gass as merely aimed toward shock value and vulgarity, but even a superficial reading of their work reveals serious musical talent and an expansive vocabulary of stylistic and cultural references.  Rize of the Fenix doesn’t quite rise to the level of mastery set on their 2001 self-titled debut, but it would be difficult to imagine any album recapturing the raw hilarity of that record.  Instead, Rize presents high-adrenaline rock and roll from start to finish, with some interesting tangents and very funny sketches filling in the transitions.  It all culminates in the funny, beautiful “39,” a song that conjures Bob Seger at the peak of his popularity with, of course, some vulgar descriptions added to the standard fare for good measure.



Ten Stories (mewithoutYou)

Producer: Daniel Smith

Released: May 15, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Grist for the Malady Mill” & “Cardiff Giant”

With Ten Stories, mewithoutYou offer a taste of what albums once offered with more regularity: a concept album that involves music, lyrics, and artwork in the grander scheme of its vision.  In this case, the “ten stories” are ten tracks that unfurl the tale of a train crash involving a traveling circus in 19th-century Montana, a story cycle inspired by a book that lead singer/songwriter Aaron Weiss read before the making of Ten Stories.  What is brilliant about mewithoutYou’s latest release is not any one piece in particular, but the manner in which all the components come together: the uncommonly interesting, strong lyrics voiced loudly and with a sense of urgent abandon as appropriate to the subject matter, coupled with carefully orchestrated music that moves smoothly between soft and serious and loud and nearly unhinged.  All in all, the listening experience ends up being like what I imagine it would sound like if Neil Young set out to make a hardcore record.




Born and Raised (John Mayer)

Producer: John Mayer & Don Was

Released: May 22, 2012

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Something Like Olivia” & “Queen of California”

After stepping back into familiar soundscapes for 2009’s Battle Studies, Mayer has switched it up again, this time donning a cowboy hat and experimenting within the country genre.  As could be expected from a popular songwriter working within this genre, Mayer’s work drifts in and out of the predictable yet does not confine itself to the current standards of the genre.  The result is a steady helping of pleasant, even pretty songs that amount to an easy listen.  You won’t find anything groundbreaking here, but you will find a steady stream of songs that clearly belong together.  Mayer experiments with a reprise of the title track, something he hasn’t implemented previously.  There are standouts, such as the upbeat, catchy “Something Like Olivia” and the solid album starter “Queen of California.”  Throughout, the quality is fairly steady, strengthened by stronger tracks (“Shadow Days,” “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”) sprinkled amongst the more lackluster fare.  At times, there is a feel which can only be traced to an early-seventies Dylan sound, a comparison made all the more tempting by Mayer’s nod to the Bard in one line (“if you see her, say hello”).  Overall, this won’t be considered a great effort at the close of Mayer’s career, but it is a solid installment in his catalog.




Once Upon Another Time [EP] (Sara Bareilles)

Producer: Ben Folds

Released: May 22, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Sweet As Whole” & “Lie To Me”

Once Upon Another Time works well as an EP, though I could scarcely imagine an entire album at the pace and tone offered by this effort, though I imagine that is the point of, and perhaps the best reason for, recording an EP in the first place.  As could be expected from any effort with both Sara Bareilles’ and Ben Folds’ respectively impressive creative stamps upon in, Once Upon Another Time offers a strong and creative sequence of tracks.  It starts off as low-key as can be with the largely a cappella title track and slowly building to the drum-backed frustration of “Lie To Me” before backing off to the simpler yet catchier piano-driven tones of “Sweet As Whole” and the final, expansive song “Bright Lights and Cityscape.”  “Sweet As Whole” is the clear standout and stands as perhaps the clearest marker that this is indeed a Bareilles/Folds collaboration: it is pretty and heartfelt yet emotionally wrought and catchy and largely rendered in the base, vulgar language of informal speakers of English.  It seems at first to clash with the sound of the music or even the EP as a whole, but, after a few listens, one should be hard-pressed not to sing along with this perfectly placed climax of the EP.




Magic Hour (Scissor Sisters)

Producer: Scissor Sisters, Calvin Harris, Stuart Price, Alex Ridha, & Pharrell Williams

Released: May 25, 2012

Rating:  4.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Year of Living Dangerously” & “San Luis Obispo”

Just when it seemed that the Scissor Sisters outdid themselves with the outstandingly fun Night Work (2010), they return a mere two years later with an album like Magic Hour, an album that artfully experiments with juxtaposition: of modern and classic sounds, of expansive gems and singles waiting to happen, and of seriously rendered lyrics and what can only be described as a mixture of funny and vulgar.  The list of standout tracks would be longer than the list of songs that fall short, what with tremendous work like the lush, gorgeous “San Luis Obispo,” the foot-stomping, fist-bumping “Baby Come Home,” and the richly textured “Inevitable.”  “Let’s Have a Kiki” is no throwaway and, in fact, begs a sing-along.  And, of course, there is what seems to be the heart of the album, the thesis that drives the work around it: “Year of Living Dangerously.”  All in all, the Scissor Sisters have outdone themselves again and continue to make some of the best, most innovative and engaging music of their generation.

“Take Your Mama” (Scissor Sisters Cover)

Welcome, welcome to another Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! edition of the Laptop Sessions with me, Jim Fusco!

Yes, yet another new band to the series tonight: Scissor Sisters!

We’re very happy to add this band to the Sessions because I’m not into too many newer bands, and I finally get a chance to get a shot at a newer band.

This band is very interesting to me- some of their songs, like “Mary”, are so amazing. But then, you get other songs that are so crazy techno that I can’t get into them.

But this song single-handedly got me into the Scissor Sisters and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to do a cover song from them.

Stay tuned- many new bands to come in the next few weeks and make sure to come back tomorrow y’all for another great acoustic cover song from Chris Moore and the Laptop Sessions!