The other night, I was standing in the pool eating a hot dog while my neighbors blared random dance tunes and Gorillaz remixes. I got to thinking about how similar hot dogs and dance music are. Both are given a bad rap by some for their inherent lack of substance, despite being enjoyed by millions worldwide. However, not all hot dogs/dance music are created equal. Just like Nathan’s are the top dogs, NYC’s Scissor Sisters‘ sound stands above their disco compatriots, reaching great heights of bliss and emotional resonance with their fourth LP, Magic Hour.
Like a great hot dog entices with aroma, this album lures in listeners with a chunk of club-ready anthems. “Shady Love” smells the mightiest, relying on the gimmick of pop-rap vocals and grimy synths to invite partygoers. Still, the rhymes are equally absurd and clever (“I was walking and talking about this bitch I met out in Boston/Who I didn’t see very often/She gonna vote for Obama and she likes to dance to Madonna/Drops her H’s like Benihana/We gonna hop in this hoopty, and she’ll take me out to movie and let me feel all up on her boobies”), and the chorus makes you ache for each dynamic syllable to roll off like diamond-shaped raindrops.
Bizarre as that cut may be, the group reaches true hedonism with “Let’s Have a Kiki”. Part song, part skit, it thrives with the charisma and swagger of some salsa and merengue, only to adorn itself with some random accessories (bits of clang-y D&B, random samples of bells and whistles, etc.). Lyrically, the whole affair has a charm and simplicity reminiscent of Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart”, obsessively focused on a kiki (or party) that, while they never truly detail, makes you want to throw right there in your bedroom. And that is so much of what these party songs are all about: forgoing depth and dignity to focus on the bliss of pure, reckless joy.
After those sweet inhalations, there has to be something with flavor/substance to keep you chewing onward, something offered by both “Baby Come Home” and “Self Control”. The former strikes the perfect balance between flash and some emotionality, an exhilarating blend of ’70s FM disco and rock, with the heavy, old-timey piano a dynamic base for hand claps and high-pitched harmonies. Really, though, that all sets the stage for the effort’s most understated lyrical concept: joyfully ignoring any romantic wrongdoings, so long as their beloved makes it home in time for cuddling. It’s a little bit retro, a little bit modern, and a perfect encapsulation of the band’s spirit.
Of course, once their baby boo-boo is home, the band ends up turning into the protagonist in “Self Control”. Conceptually, it focuses on a rather seductive and forceful lover outlining his forthcoming, unavoidable bedroom machinations, which illuminates oodles about the writers (in)ability to form interpersonal relationships. Yet they mask or dilute that with the clatter of a laser-cut synth groove and breathy vocals. Both cuts keep the momentum going, working toward more cutting revelations and musings while keeping the dance floor perpetually inviting.
Like all great meals (whether they go into ears or stomachs), they have to not only smell and taste good, but they have to leave you fulfilled. Where hot dogs rely on proteins and carbs, Magic Hour presents uber-ballads like “Inevitable” and “The Secret Life of Letters”. The former is a Bee Gees-inspired ballad in the truest sense, without getting too bogged down in depressing sentiments. It starts off calling weather the sole cause for emotional turmoil, pairing quasi-falsetto vocals with an increasingly turbulent synth. By the time the chorus breaks, the outfit has exceeded their heartache, looking toward the increasingly sunny, rainbow-colored skies with hopes that love will make everything better. It’s hard to doubt their chances with a groove so self-assured and optimistic.
“The Secret Life of Letters” is the most delicate cut on the album, with somber piano doing its best to stay sturdy as Jake Shears vocals flutter through the air. Balancing their weightlessness are the album’s most intricate and intellectual lyrics (“What is the full speed of language/ When there is nothing to say/ What’s in the air/ There must be something there/ It’s not in service today/ Sometimes the neighbors complain/ The phone speaks another’s full name”). Their true meaning is slightly indecipherable, but that fits considering the allusions to infidelity and communications breaking down; regardless, they’re a hefty emotional blow after so many sonic appetizers.
As the hot dog is engrained in so much of American culture, the Scissor Sisters are a crucial part of modern-day dance music, skillfully combining panache with vulnerability. Magic Hour is just another reason why people keep Scissor Sisters perpetually on their musical menu.
Essential Tracks: “Shady Love”, “Inevitable”, “Let’s Have A Kiki”, and “Baby Come Home”