New York in the early ’80s was a world seemingly without end. It was decadent. The music was vivacious. Clubs were burning the world alive.
Suddenly, almost inexplicably, the party came to an earth-shattering, heartbreaking halt. People were dying. Not just dying — they were being struck down.
AIDS claimed almost an entire generation and the face of New York — and the world — changed forever.
In an attempt to tap back into history, the Scissor Sisters’ new album Night Work is a blindingly brilliant dancefloor delight, a return to the frenzy of disco, albeit with thoroughly modern flourishes.
“It’s a really fun dance record,” bassist Babydaddy explained on the phone from New York. “It’s an album we’re very proud of. It’s upbeat from beginning to end and it was produced by Stuart Price.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever worked with a producer and he was amazing to work with and I think it’s full of very fun, catchy music that you can sing along to — if I do say so myself.”
There’s no need for modesty really — it’s a brilliant return to form. Price reportedly worked the band harder than they’ve ever worked before.
Whereas their second album Ta-Dah had a slight, at times, low-beat melancholia, Night Work is a hip-shakin’ non-stop dance album which grows and grows from the opening title track to compelling closer Invisible Light.
“We’ve been working on the record pretty much since we got off the road with Ta-Dah [in 2007] and I think it was kind of a long process to figure out where we were going, why we needed to come back, what we were going to say,” Babydaddy said.
“Then Jake ended up in Berlin to get some inspiration and I think it took off from there.”
By this point the band had pursued individual ventures. Babydaddy took up a paint brush. Ana Matronic started writing. Del Marquis released a solo project.
And lead singer Jake Shears? He released a musical. And then went dancing. In Berlin.
It was there he was reportedly struck with an epiphany on the dancefloor of some club. With hands raised in the air, a moment of timelessness transcended the venue and Shears imagined he’d travelled back in time.
More specifically, he imagined he’d travelled back to the early ’80s, and in that instant the concept for Night Work was realised: what would the music have sounded like if the party hadn’t stopped.
The album’s concept is best summed up by the album cover, a photograph of a Broadway dancer’s clenched bottom, the photo itself instantly recognisable in style and technique as a Robert Mapplethorpe, the acclaimed gay photographer from ’70s and ’80s New York who died of an AIDS-related illness.
“Jake was very into the idea of Mapplethorpe on the cover of this record. He thought about it for a long time and before we even knew what the photo would be he believed that this was the right thing to point back to an era and pay homage to a certain era of New York,” Babydaddy told Sydney Star Observer.
“It was a time of decadence our generation has missed out on, a time of decadence without fear and it’s also representative of the beginning of AIDS and the beginning of nightlife never being the same again.
“And I think in a certain fantasy it’s a look at what could be if AIDS never happened, which is something Jake had to say about this record. It’s a fantasy of what fearless decadence would feel like.
“So Mapplethorpe seems to really represent that time for us very well. He was sort of an icon of that time.”
With the band using a prominent gay artist as inspiration, the next question seems obvious: how much does queer culture inform the music-making world of the Scissor Sisters?
“I think the fact that three of us are gay and Anna Matronic is basically a drag queen in a woman’s body, that sort of connects us to the queer scene and gay scene whether we like it or not,” Babydaddy laughed.
“We probably do feel more queer than gay. We’re bent. We’re unusual people and we’ve never really fit in with the norm. I think New York is a place where people like that congregate and was a way for us to kind of come together and enjoy each other’s freaky nature.
“It’s hard to say exactly how gay or queer culture ties in to what we do but I think the fact that we’re gay is not something we put to the forefront of what we do, but it is a huge part.
“Sexuality is a huge part of who we are. We present our own vision. People can either get on board or they don’t. We can’t control the landscape, we can only control what it is we do.”
And of course, it’s more than likely everyone is itching to get back on the party train that is the Scissor Sisters sound.
info: Night Work is out June 28 through Universal Music.
By: Scott-Patrick Mitchell