Ta Dah: Irony We Can Dance To
The Scissor Sisters' second record singes with irony and sadness, a sober assessment of the band's chaotic rise to stardom.
According to the ensemble's profile on MySpace, returning home from two years of intense touring in 2005 was "the mother of all comedowns." From being "crazy and successful and amazing and colorful," the Sisters finally felt the mundane grip of "the threads of our daily lives." This daunting drama made the members feel like a collective "astronaut re-entering the atmosphere from space."
Such days are difficult even for seasoned superstars but for performers who went from cult heroes of the gay underground music and club circuit to international heavyweights with their 2004 self-titled debut disc, this quick rise sent the Sisters into the year off and then the studio for the sophomore effort reckoning with the "stifling weight of expectation and gnawing self-doubt."
If this mood sounds like a monstrous melancholy for a megagroup, imagine trying to write a dozen glamorous dance tracks that reflect it. From the sizzling single "I Don't Feel Like Dancing," co-written with Elton John, to the loving coda "Everybody Wants the Same Thing," "Ta-Dah" talks trash about its own sense of artifice, dishes the myths of power and popularity, and ultimately shows that the Sisters' sinister and oversexed sound can combine vulnerability and endurance.
With an appetite for ambiguity, the record comments on itself: "It's not easy having yourself a good time" ("I Can't Decide," featuring actress Gina Gershon on Jew's harp); "This is the land of a thousand words/But it seems so few are worth the breath to say" ("Land of a Thousand Words"). By creating a self-conscious parody and paradox we can pump our pelvises to and indexing each album with references to Oz and places over the rainbow, the Scissor Sisters join a long tradition of the primarily gay subculture known as Camp.
The challenge of "getting it" for all the non-gay members of the fan base, however, is only exacerbated by Scissor Sisters records being absent from the shelves of so many big-box stores. Retailers have consciously banned the group, both for the drug and gay sex content of its lyrics, and for Jake Shears' relatively recent swipe at stores charging way too much for new CDs.
Rather than compare anything on "Ta-Dah" to the first record and the infinite heights of "Take Your Mama" or "Filthy/Gorgeous," listeners might study the sturdy and contemplative lyrics or hit the dance floor enjoying the loving licks of mere mortals. Outside the gay club scene, the Scissor Sisters have been embraced in the States by the eclectic and imprecise genre of alternative rock, a tent so massive that it can include punk and prog, goth and grunge, roots and rap. Somewhere inside this millennial mix tape mixer, a soothing soundscape emerges, shamelessly invoking everything from show-tunes to the epic rock and pop disco of the late '70s.
Looking at both Scissor Sisters records as two chapters of its career, we hear reverberations of everything from Bowie to the Bee Gees, from Elton John (a huge Sisters' fan and friend) to Chic. Of the band's many challenges on this disc and current tour comes the task of resisting the coffin-nail critiques of the fickle pop punditry. While some writers would happily dismiss the latest incarnation as a cult novelty or obscure nicety—something like this generation's Village People—the band must keep its communal head about itself, fiercely showing the world that infectious funk and falsetto can still fluff up the fans and forge a new folk music for the urban freak scene.