Scissor Sisters, "Night Work" (Universal) Rating: 2/4
Part performance-art project, part burlesque troupe, and part musical homage to the underrated artistry of the disco era, New York’s provocatively named Sister Sisters transcended the potentially schticky sum of those parts on their first, self-titled album in 2004, thanks to the sheer exuberance of vocalists Jake Shears and Ana Matronic, the playful invention of multi-instrumentalist/synth wizard Babydaddy, and the inspired move of remaking Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” in the style of the “Saturday Night Fever” Bee Gees. But the high concept already was feeling a bit played out and yielding to camp on album number two, “Ta-dah” (2006), and it certainly wasn’t a good sign that the group recorded and trashed an entire album before entering the studio again with dance-pop hitmaker-for-hire Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie Minogue, the Killers).
“If it wasn’t something we could fully get behind and believe in, I think the band was going to be over,” Shears said of the second attempt to make the Scissor Sisters’ third album, after drawing fresh inspiration from clubbing in Berlin. But it’s too bad that there isn’t more of that city’s enduring musical influence on “Night Work”— James Murphy showed just how many arty musical ideas and undeniable dance grooves can still be borrowed from Brian Eno and David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” with LCD Soundsystem’s recent third album, “This Is Happening”—and with a few pleasant-enough exceptions, “Skin This Cat” chief among them, neither the fun quotient nor the unexpected musical mergers are strong enough this time around to make this more than a just-O.K. ’70s disco nostalgia trip/genre exercise.
Which is a shame, because if Shears and his bandmates had committed to a deeper examination of what was really going on just below the surface of their favorite era’s unrestrained hedonism—as the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe did with photos such as on the one included on the album cover (and many more that would blow the minds of Walmart shoppers, and then some)—they might have been accomplished something great. Instead, we get an annoying ballad about condoms (“Skin Tight”), a song called “Sex and Violence” that doesn’t say much about either, and a tune called “Something Like This” that actually can be heard as agreeing with the close-minded listeners who to this day argue that dance music is pandering, empty-headed, and robotic.
Disco sucks? No, not when it’s done right. Here, the Scissor Sisters are merely mediocre.