If the Robert Mapplethorpe photo of ballet dancer Peter Reed’s clenched buttocks on the record sleeve of Night Work is any indication, the Scissor Sisters’ third album finds the flamboyant pop group in a cheeky mood.
Four years in the making, Night Work is the result of tumultuous soul-searching that saw the band scrap an entire album’s worth of songs and start over. Front man Jake Shears hightailed it from New York to Berlin, where he immersed himself in the city’s debauched nightlife and met Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. Tennant suggested he team up with high-gloss mega-producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie Minogue).
Newly energized, the band regrouped with Price and wrote Night Work, a euphoric love letter to the excesses and tragedies of New York’s gay nightlife in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Though she admits she wasn’t sold on the Mapplethorpe cover art at first, singer Ana Lynch (aka Ana Matronic) says the cover image is a succinct summation of the album’s themes.
“I love Robert Mapplethorpe, and I love the way his story ties in to a lot of the themes and concepts of the album,” she says over the phone from New York. “He was really immersed in that culture, documenting the seedy gay scene and the not-so-seedy gay scene that was beginning to become free in New York. That imagery and that spirit have been really inspiring to us.”
Scissor Sisters is a band born of New York’s nightlife. Members Lynch, Shears, guitarist Del Marquis and multi-instrumentalist Babydaddy, all veterans of the city’s club scene, formed the group in 2001 and released their self-titled debut three years later. It became the UK’s number one-selling album that year, with more than two million records sold, but had minimal impact in the United States, where it peaked at 102 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Early reviews are calling Night Work a welcome return to form following middling sophomore effort Ta-Dah. Lead single “Fire with Fire” is clearly the stadium-filler, while epic album closer “Invisible Light,” featuring a Vincent Price-like spoken word interlude by actor Ian McKellen, is more evocative of the record’s dark disco leanings.
While the prevailing sentiment is sexy, Lynch says Night Work is not without moments of intimacy. “Skin Tight,” for example, is the closest the Sisters come to a love song on the record.
“It’s the one song that really fulfills the role of the ballad, even though there’s no slow-tempo songs on the record,” she says. “‘Skin This Cat’ is a sexy song but also a song about getting to know somebody, really wanting to get in there and have this person know you. And if they know you and know how to work you in the right way, it could be a beautiful relationship.”
Before she moved to New York and became a Scissor Sister, Lynch was one of a few regular female performers at San Francisco drag cabaret Trannyshack. The liner notes on Night Work are full of thank yous to many of the personalities she met during that time, including The Steve Lady, a legendary Trannyshack fixture who passed away in 2008.
“The Steve Lady is definitely one of my idols and always will be,” she says. “She was the fiercest queen I’ve ever seen on stage. I used to say that watching The Steve Lady was like looking at the most beautiful editorial in a magazine because she was so posed and so cold yet so burning hot.”
For that reason, Night Work is also a nod to the nocturnal characters of dancefloors and stages, on which she’s still active as both a performer and a member of the Joshua Light Show, her husband’s psychedelic lighting-design collective.
“I was very fortunate, I feel, to have been embraced very openly by people,” she says. “I was embraced more or less because I was fierce and am fierce and continue to be fierce.”
“In a drag situation, you have one song to prove that you are worthy of these people’s applause and admiration. So you better pick the right song, you better look really good, and you better own that song,” she continues. “It just became a natural progression that brought me to New York and then into the loving arms of my fellow Scissor Sisters.”
Night Work is in stores now.
Canadian tour dates:
August 29 Montreal, QC – Metropolis
August 31 Toronto, ON – Sound Academy
September 16 Vancouver, BC – Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park
Watch the video for the first single, “Fire with Fire”: