As a teenager, and throughout college, I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t know what was happening with popular music. In junior high school I saved money to buy 45s of the Carpenters and John Denver singles. Part-time jobs afforded me the luxury of purchasing Melissa Manchester and Pointer Sister albums in high school. In college, it was cassette tapes of Prince and the Eurythmics. I would forego beer and pizza and instead get concert tickets to virtually any popular singer or band performing in the Twin Cities. From a performance by Heart at the old Met Center to Culture Club at the long-gone Saint Paul Civic Center to Tina Turner at legendary First Avenue, I waited in line and spent hours on hold hoping to get tickets to the hottest acts.
Today, I wouldn’t know Usher from Nelly from Ke$ha. (I only know their names by looking at which artists are on Billboard’ top 10 list this week.) My frequent visits to record stores have been replaced by an occasional purchase on Amazon and an even rarer visit to the Electric Fetus off of Franklin Avenue. The few times I purchase CDs now are when Annie Lennox or Sade release a disc. Though, occasionally I will hear a voice like Amy Winehouse or Adele and I will be motivated to download a song or two on my iPod. It is beyond unusual then when a new CD totally captures my attention and never leaves my CD player.
Scissor Sisters new CD, Night Work, is the essence of pop. I know, for some people who disdain pop music, that is reason enough to not give it a listen. But for those of us who came of age dancing to Sylvester, the Bee Gees, the Talking Heads and A Flock of Seagulls, this is the album we’ve been waiting for for decades. Night Work has hints of all these old, and in some cases nearly forgotten performers, with a touch of U2 and Freddie Mercury thrown in the mix as well. Sir Ian McKellan adds his voice to Invisible Light, the closing track on the album, in a fashion that recalls Vincent Price reciting lyrics on Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Every song on Night Work, from the opening title track to the McKellan-enhanced close,sounds vaguely familiar, yet unmistakably new.
Like the music on the disc, the artwork on the cover of Scissor Sisters’ latest effort seems simultaneously fresh and retro. The photo of a man’s spandex-clad butt was taken by the controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe in 1980. The image perfectly captures the feel of the music. Night Work pays homage to Mapplethorpe, Sylvester, Freddie Mercury and all of the defining artists of the 70s and 80s whose talent was silenced by AIDS. Referring to the impact AIDS has had on culture, Scissor Sisters’ lead singer Jake Shears said, “A whole generation was wiped out...What if music hadn’t stopped dead in its tracks? What if you could pick up where that left off?”
What you would have would be Night Work, an irresistible, pop album that nearly makes you forget about the loss from AIDS. That is no small accomplishment.