It's obviously unwise to begin a pop career with a dull, dreary album, but it can also be a curse to start out with anything too glitteringly good. Take the oddly parallel careers of Franz Ferdinand and Scissor Sisters: both released brilliant self-titled debuts in February 2004 which grabbed the zeitgeist and gobbled the charts, then rushed out disappointing follow-ups and found themselves mired in false starts while recording nightlife-themed third offerings. For Franz Ferdinand, the hesitation proved costly and the sleek, subtle Tonight flopped: we'll soon know if Scissor Sister's lengthier dithering will be similarly punished.
Certainly, the New Yorkers' jitters aren't audibly evident on Night Work, which struts where their second stuttered and crams choruses where it blustered. The comeback single Fire With Fire is a brash, chart-seeking missile of a tune: opening as a piano ballad, it soon builds into a sweeping, air-punching, lyrically nonsensical anthem which shares a lot of musical DNA with The Killers' Human (Stuart Price produced both). Imagine U2 on amyl nitrate and you're halfway there.
The vaguely spiritual lyrics and FM gloss of the single turn out to be red herrings, however. Elsewhere, the album bustles with double entendres (in Jake Shears' world, guns are always suggestively shooting and apples being grabbed) backed by squelching, rutting, frivolous disco. A lot of these songs are great fun–the adrenaline shot of the title-track, the slinky Moroder meow of Skin This Cat, the sleazy electro swagger of Harder You Get–but rarely more than that. And on songs like Any Which Way and Something Like That the innuendos become irksome and the kitschy, tongue-in-cheek production becomes pain-in-arse.
When Jake Shears adds soul to the smut, the album is more rewarding. The brooding, melancholic throb of Sex and Violence is a loving homage to gay 80s pop, sounding like the biologically improbable love child of Bronski Beat, Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell. But the only truly outstanding song is Skin Tight, a wonderfully assured, soaring-chorused love song which sounds like a lost Prince classic.
Night Work is a far livelier and more enjoyable record than Ta-Dah, which was a modest album with much to be modest about. But the nagging sense that Scissor Sisters aren't living up to the promise of their multifaceted, emotionally rich debut is slowly being replaced by the suspicion that they never will.
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