Oh, the second album. When a band has great success, commercially and artistically, with a debut album, the second release is very much anticipated. Will the band again enthrall with an album full of emotion and startling imagination? Or will it leave fans and critics cold and indifferent? It’s a recording artist’s Achilles heel.
The sophomore efforts from Junior Boys and Scissor Sisters are perfect examples of this phenomenon.
The new release from Hamilton’s The Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye, is a splendid piece of comforting synth-pop. It’s even better than 2004’s Last Exit.
Scissor Sisters’ Ta-Dah is well crafted but steals so blatantly from songs of the past that it lacks the campy forcefulness of 2004’s self-titled debut. All their Day-Glo styling and cool haircuts can’t hide the fact that on this album they’ve become a poor man’s ’80s era Billy Joel. Who wants that?
Following Johnny Dark’s departure from Junior Boys (replaced by one-time engineer Mathew Didemus), vocalist Jeremy Greenspan has taken full creative control. His arrangements with Didemus have a more spirited pop element, But it’s still moody and introspective. There’s warmth in the cold beats. Greenspan’s light whispery inflection surfs elegantly along the shimmering, cozy robotic sounds.
“Count Souvenirs” is an evocative and sensual song. It certainly echoes early Depeche Mode but Greenspan’s lyrics are more detailed. His words evoke a stronger loner spirit. He longs and ponders but there is contentment in his observations. “Empty stalls and shopping malls that we’ll never see again,” he tenderly confides. “Hotel lobbies like painful hobbies that linger on.”
The dynamic “In The Morning” is all throbbing beats and Greenspan grunts. There are layers upon layers of programmed sounds that expand and gain complexity. It’s the most danceable track on the album — sexy, too (Madonna should think of using these boys on her next album). “Girlfriend, life’s not over,” go Greenspan’s brilliant lyrics. “We’re not getting older/ They can’t chase forever/ ‘Cause in the morning/ There’s a million things to choose from/ You don’t care/ Just take one.”
I love what Greenspan does with the Sinatra classic “When No One Cares” (written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen). Sinatra’s version was a sweeping, lush, heavily orchestrated affair. Greenspan’s is more intimate with sparse, creepy, wonky electric sounds hovering around Greenspan, mournful and concerned. The lyrics drip cinnamon heart tears. “When no one cares/ And the phone never rings/ The nights are endless things.” It’s a breathtaking and original reworking.
So This Is Goodbye is steaped in sadness but gloriously defies wallowing in self-pity and regret. It alters your perceptions of inner turmoil and gives it a romantic, positive flair. It doesn’t so much kick you in the ass, but pirouettes you, instead.
I had a feeling that the latest Scissor Sisters was going to be a stinker when the video of the Elton John cowritten single “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” appeared on the web. Sure, the countrified guitar intro sounds fine. A dance song about not feeling like dancing is inspired. And Star Wars laserbeam sounds are always fun. But for a band that screams “GAY,” the song dripped Boringsville.
Remember when the ’80s British band ABC tried to make a comeback with its two remaining members and the addition of a tiny bald guy (wearing Swifty Lazar-sized glasses) and a goofy cartoonish girl? Of course you don’t. The over- stylized colour combinations (pre-Dee-Lite) reminds me of the Sisters’ recent desperation to look cutting-edge. This time out the music contradicts everything their look wants you to believe. And is it just me or has Ana Matronic’s useless Paul Rutherford shtick over stayed its welcome? (Rutherford was the “second” vocalist of Frankie Goes To Hollywood.)
Ta-Dah (don’t start me on the CD cover so awful Rush wouldn’t even think of using it) isn’t terrible. I just really thought the Sisters would come out with a kick-ass super concentrated gay extravaganza. They haven’t.
The songs are drowning in their references; you can’t help but start singing the original inspirations. The Sisters’ “She’s My Man” is Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” The Dixie ragtime “I Can’t Decide” is pure Paul Williams’s soundtrack for Bugsy Malone.
The musicianship on Ta-Dah is tight and vocalist Jake Shears’ flirty falsetto is always a good thing. But it all just sounds too oddly familiar. If you lived through AM radio of the ’70s and early ’80s, you’ll know what I mean.
For the teens and twentysomethings this might be a fun fresh album. But for anyone over 30, Ta-Dah will leave you numb with nothingness. As the single says, “I don’t feel like dancin’, dancin’/ Even if I find nothing better to do.”