NYC's queens of kitsch mine classic-rock vault

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A Cut Above

Scissor sisters are four guys, one of them straight, plus the former hostess of some mondo freak show on the Lower East Side. Early gigs involved a laptop and much cavorting about to digital beats in a bar called The Cock. Their debut single, “Electrobix”, was about “scrawny gays and steroid queens”. They look like refugees from Studio 54, have names like Ana Matronic, Baby Daddy, Del Marquis and Paddy Boom (and, uh, Jake Shears), and they’ve been the toast of NYC clubland and Europe’s catwalks for two years.

Now if this sounds like some art-fag in-joke with as much chance of making it in the real world as Fischerspooner, think again. What The Darkness have done with the Queen and Def Leppard back catalogues, Scissor Sisters do with The Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Elton John. In a triumph of passion over pastiche, The Darkness have become the biggest band in Britain. Although they’re still doing tours with indie minnows, Scissor Sisters already sound like international superstars because they’ve made a record inspired by rock’s commercial giants, and they’ve done so without strategy or subterfuge. They mean it, man.

Sincerity of intent is one thing. But they’ve got the music to back it up. Scissor Sisters write songs, not riffs or chord sequences. They play them on mostly non-electronic instruments including guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and saxophone, and the richly textured sound they achieved in a studio in Baby Daddy’s Brooklyn apartment recalls those wildly eclectic Stones or Elton records you used to bleed white. This is rock music you can dance to. Think “Miss You”. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. “Hot Stuff”. The period touches such as the syn-drums on “Filthy/Gorgeous” or the honky-tonk piano on country-funk outing “Take Your Mama Out” are brilliantly authentic. The songs?the Broadway-goes-Hi NRG strut of “Laura”, the “Nutbush City Limits”-revisited raunch of “Music Is The Victim”, the Moroder-ised boogie with the c&w middle-eight of “Better Luck Next Time”?are superb.

Shears’ vocals are key. On “Mary”, a stone classic love song from a gay man to his best friend that could have replaced Elton’s “Tiny Dancer” in that scene from Almost Famous, he plays it straight, literally, immersing himself in the role of rock balladeer for the US masses. It’s a bravura performance from a singer who understands the unironic joy and solemn sorrow of AOR.

It’s weird to suddenly hear this full-bodied voice slip into falsetto mode for “Tits On The Radio”, about dispossessed NYC drag artists, or the disco version of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. In fact, “Tits”, “Numb” and “Lovers In The Backseat” are like reprocessed ’80s cheese?Thompson Twins, say, or Bronski Beat. But instead of spoiling the ’70s schema, they give Scissor Sisters the multi-mood feel of a career overview. This is Scissor Sisters’ first Greatest Hits collection. Or it should be. Over to you.