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The Scissor Sisters make scandalous disco-rock 

Wednesday, Sep 8 2010
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Del Marquis receives the overturn of Proposition 8 thusly: "Amazing, it really is. Deservedly so. I'm never getting married, but I would love [for] anybody to have that opportunity."

It's somewhat integral to the image of Scissor Sisters — the American-born U.K. dance-rock smash in which Marquis (real name: Derek Gruen) plays lead guitar — that he slyly slips in that forever-a-bachelor bit. And it's certainly true to the spirit of the band's third album, the just-released Night Work, that while monogamy is off the table, the lascivious freedom celebrated by the music encompasses the right to get married — for some, the most alluring fantasy of all.

Musically, Scissor Sisters wear influences including disco, rock, New Orleans piano, and even, once, bluegrass. The band is too tricky to be straight pop, but too glammy to be called alt-rock. Most importantly, the Sisters are a world-class pastiche of gay iconicity, both subversive (covering the often-drab Pink Floyd as glimmering disco-house) and sincere: "Mary" and "Take Your Mama" are such closely hewn Elton John homages that the man himself took notice and helped write an international hit, "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," with the band. The sole current member of Scissor Sisters who identifies as hetero is co-lead singer Ana Matronic (born Ana Lynch) — and even she has done time as a transsexual impersonator.

Years before Lady Gaga helped re-coolify ambiguously oriented — and blatant — sexuality, Scissor Sisters went there without apology. The frank chorus of an early favorite had Matronic bemoaning, "You can't say 'tits' on the radio." Night Work, the band's most streamlined work yet, peaks with the even more uncouth "Sex and Violence."

Night Work "is a celebration of sex and nightlife and perversity, sometimes in really healthy ways," Marquis says. "A song like 'Sex and Violence' — which is written from the point of view of an Internet stalker luring someone for their own perverse and sadistic thrills, basically to kill them — is a really dark concept and something that isn't necessarily healthy. But then a song like 'Whole New Way' is extremely dirty and there's so much innuendo, but it's not negative, just really cheeky and dark."

What he's getting at is the thin line on which Scissor Sisters excel at teetering: putting a batch of anal sex euphemisms in one hand and a disturbingly violent song in the other, then daring the public to blanch at the consensual one. It's also noteworthy that the most easily deciphered lyric in "Whole New Way," a song Marquis calls "extremely dirty," is, "Well, I think I need a rubber tonight."

This isn't quite social commentary. Main songwriter and bandleader Jake Shears isn't a satirist like Randy Newman, or a censorship baiter like Tool's Maynard James Keenan. But he knows a delicious juxtaposition when he hits upon one, and Wal-Mart does refuse to stock the Sisters' records. "If we lose a few people along the way that can't handle unabashed sexuality from a queer sensibility, then so be it," Marquis says. "The camp element [on 2006's Ta-Dah] was something that we courted, and I think in a sense lost who we were. This time around we wanted to be more upfront and unapologetic with the subject manner. And it's definitely not camp, just horny, sleazy and dirty." (The band's name, by the way, is slang for a female-to-female sex position.)

But all the naughty word games and scandalous-by-default spittings are just decor for the Scissor Sisters' true agenda: fun. Night Work's peaks aren't the band's highest — but it's the most coherent sonically. Marquis seems particularly pleased by that focus. "You don't want to burden a record with your problems," he says over the phone, seemingly grinning. "We find a way of turning frustration into something you can celebrate."

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Dan Weiss

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