Whereas 2010's excellent Night Work was shot through with sex and sleaziness, recalling the early 80's art-gay-pop scene, Magic Hour, Scissor Sisters' fourth album, is much harder to pin down. Shears himself has said of the album "It style-hops all over the place unabashedly." Unabashed being the perfect word to describe Scissor Sisters and their career to date – not disconcerted or embarrassed; poised; and completely comfortable with the kind of music they're making and who they're making it for.
Such freedom and confidence allowed Scissor Sisters to announce their comeback with 'Shady Love', a pop monster featuring Jake Shears rapping (I know), ably assisted by woman du jour Azealia Banks. It's a great song, which by throwing so many different sounds into the mix – from electro, disco, and hip-hop – should have probably turned out an absolute mess. It doesn't. Partly because of the skill of the people involved, but also because of the surprise factor. Prior to Night Work, Scissor Sisters were in danger of becoming a little too safe and predictable. This, and the majority of the other songs on the album, blows that notion right out of the water.
They were also canny enough to recruit some of the biggest producers in the game to give the album a beautiful pop sheen. 'Only The Horses', the first proper single, is Calvin Harris all over – huge-sounding synths, multi-coloured beats, and a euphoric build throughout. They hired Harris for one reason and one reason only – a massive hit. When the sun eventually starts shining outside, it will make all the more sense. The Neptunes make a now rare appearance as producers on the sultry 'Inevitable'. Makes me think this is the sort of music the Bee Gees would be making right now were they still going. It's a wonderfully sexy sounding, mid-tempo, disco gem, plonked right in the middle of the militant, club banger 'Keep Your Shoes On', and the aforementioned 'Only The Horses' – showcasing the schizophrenic nature of the album.
It doesn't always work. 'Let's Have A Kiki' is fun, but begins to grate after a few listens, and the plodding 'The Secret Life Of Letters' is a weak, middling moment. It jars a little, in comparison to the sweet, joyful music surrounding it. Finding the only Stuart Price aided song on the record should be the one of two to fall short is surprising, considering the brilliant things he did on Night Work. Better is the sunny, acoustic-strummed 'San Luis Obispo', a simple song and a lovely restrained moment from a band so usually overtly glam and brash. While 'Self Control' takes Shears' new found obsession with house music, and creates a sleek, pulsating, dance track in its own right. For those yearning for a return to the dirty, dark vibe of Night Work, it should more than suffice.
The album begins with a plea, from a committed significant other: "Baby come home...to me." It's a far cry from taking your mama out and getting her drunk on cheap champagne, having sex in the back seat of a car, or dancing in a seedy club on nights just to make ends meet - but it seems to suit. Magic Hour is an instantly lovable, warm, eclectic album, and song for song probably Scissor Sisters' best work to date.