The brilliance of this song, currently the Number One single in the UK, is to a large extent due to the way that it is made up entirely of “good bits”. What’s more, each separate “bit” is so good that, even as you’re enjoying it, a part of you is tingling with anticipation for the next “bit”. And it has two consecutive choruses, which is something of a masterstroke.
This is possibly the first single since Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” to enter that select canon of unassailable, Everybody To The Dance Floor Now, You Can’t Possibly Go Wrong, Wedding Disco Classics – and as such, expect it to be soundtracking Happiest Days Of Our Lives for at least the next thirty years. It’s also destined to be the hit for which the Scissor Sisters will always be remembered: their standard, their show-stopper, maybe even their albatross.
(That debut album, as fine as it was, was rather short on tracks which stood up as hit singles in their own right. Maybe that’s why we all got to the point where we couldn’t bear to hear “Take Your Mama Out” one – more – bloody – time – thank you.)
As the lead track from the album, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” also sets a false trail. None of the twelve tracks which succeed it aspire to quite that level of unabashed celebratory glee (the plaintive melancholy of the lyrics notwithstanding) – or indeed, and let’s get this pesky little term out the way right now, campness. (Sigh.)
2. She’s My Man.
Which isn’t to say that some of them don’t come close. Stylistically, this is pitched somewhere between the Elton John of Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and that short-lived strain of “rock disco” which popped up in late 1983/early 1984 (Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”, The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited”, that sort of thing). As indicated in the title, there’s also a healthy dollop of gender perversity – but you’ll search in vain to find much more in the way of obvious queerness during the rest of the album. Like The Hidden Cameras with Awoo, the Scissors appear to moving away from the arguable limitations of the sexual-orientation-specific, and towards a more general universality. Timid sell-out, or natural progression? Oh, I know which side of the fence I am with that one.
3. I Can’t Decide.
And with the crisply enunciated line “f**k and kiss you both at the same time” in the first verse, Ta-Dah automatically crosses itself off the list of nice jolly albums for the kids to sing along to during the School Run. Now who’s being timid?
As with so many songs on the first half of the album, there’s a yawning chasm between the carefree jauntiness of the music (here enlivened by a twanging Jews Harp, and Graeme Garden’s son on barrelhouse piano), and the bleak miserablism of Jake Shears’ lyrics. (“My heart feels dead inside; it’s cold and hard and petrified.”) As already alluded to in interviews, some deeply personal shit-storms are clearly being documented here. Unfortunately – and here’s another parallel with the Hidden Cameras – they’re sometimes couched in such private, personal language that it’s difficult to work out just what’s going on. However, the bitter vitriol on display here is hard to miss.
An absolutely ravishing pastiche of mid-tempo Seventies-style pop-funk (“Couldn’t Get It Right” by the Climax Blues Band springs to mind), enlivened by sassy brass stabs from Bob Funk and Larry Etkin of the Uptown Horns, and lifted into another dimension by the immediately recognisable guitar/bass contributions of longtime Bowie collaborator Carlos Alomar (there are clear echoes of “Fame” in the opening bars of “Lights”). Alomar picks up a co-writer’s credit for his efforts, and it isn’t the last that we’ll be hearing from him.
5. Land Of A Thousand Words.
A surprising choice of future follow-up single, if the sticker on the front of the CD case is to be believed, as this is a big production ballad of the “Mary” school. It’s tedious to harp on about the Elton John comparisons – but really they’re inescapable here, both stylistically and in terms of Jake Shears’ vocal phrasings.
Once again, there’s a pronounced juxtaposition between words and music. While the music carries all the stock certainties of the Big Ballad, the lyrics describe a relationship whose future sounds far from certain. Shears and his lover appear to be hanging on by the skins of their teeth, not ready to give up just yet, but straining in opposite directions none the less.
Trouble is: this kind of material works best when everyone can access the emotions they describe. (Think “Victims”. Think “Angels”. Think “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”.) The impact of this song, lovely as it is, is severely diminished by its lyrical obtuseness. So we’re probably not looking at a second consecutive Number One.
In which the previous track’s tastefully restrained string arrangement from Joan Wasser (aka Joan As Policewoman) is cruelly superseded by the sumptuous orchestration on display here, as provided by no less a figure than Van Dyke Parks. Now that they are in a position to do so, the Scissors are choosing their famous collaborators wisely.
Speaking of which: here’s Dame Elton of John on piano again, fresh from tinkling the “old Joanna” on the album’s opener (and picking up another co-writing credit along the way, the greedy bitch).
For all the heavyweight talent on board (not to mention some glorious piano work from JJ “son of Graeme” Garden, rapidly emerging as Ta-Dah‘s unsung hero), “Intermission” styles itself as just that: a short, frivolous distraction, with vaudevillian nods to the likes of “When I’m 64”, Lou Reed’s “New York Telephone Conversation”, and some of Freddie Mercury’s camper (sorry!) moments on A Night At The Opera. And that would have been that, were it not for the continued bleak bite of the lyrics, which peak with the jaunty refrain of “Tomorrow’s not what it used to be, we were born to die, happy yesterday to all, we were born to die”.
It’s a turning point, of sorts.
7. Kiss You Off.
Actually, if Ta-Dah does have an interlude, then this is it. Scything through all of Jake’s accumulated angst over the first six tracks, pistol-packin’ mama Ana Matronic gets her one shot at a lead vocal: and she ain’t pussyfootin’ around, neither. Working an amusingly extended lipstick analogy, she declares “I’m gonna buy me a new shade of man”, and “it’s standing room only for a piece of my pigment”. You Go Girl, etc etc.
However. The Goldfrappy schaffel-stomp of the rhythm track is watered down to the point of inspidity, the song overruns by at least a minute and a half, and Matronic, deeply lovely as she is (we’ve met twice, and I adored her on both occasions) simply doesn’t have the requisite vocal authority. Occupying a similar tonal range to her co-vocalist, Matronic cannot help but come across as Shears Lite.
Maybe mindful of this fact, Stuart Price has been drafted in, fresh from the triumph of Confessions On A Dance Floor, solely to provide something called “additional vocal production”. Hmm. It might have worked for Madge, but all the “treatments” in the world can’t supply the presence which “Kiss You Off” inescapably lacks.
(God, I feel horrible for saying that.)
Having reached the pits of despair, and with Ana having crisply dispatched the source of the problem on Jake’s behalf (she’s good to him like that), we’re now climbing up the other side, and back into the light. And so, at last, here’s a straightforwardly happy party tune, free from any contradictory undercurrents. It’s nifty, it’s frisky, it’s funky, it’s the Bee Gees with a dash of Prince, and it’s Ta-Dah‘s nearest equivalent to “Filthy/Gorgeous”. F**k art, let’s dance, etc etc.
9. Paul McCartney.
Actually, scratch that thought immediately: with its speedy two-note electronic bass throb, this is Ta-Dah‘s nearest equivalent to “Filthy/Gorgeous”. (I told you that these were rough tasting notes.) Carlos Alomar and the Uptown Horns are back, although their presence isn’t quite as keenly felt as earlier.
Shears, you sense, is getting his shit together here. “There’s an urgency I’m feeling for the first time”, he tells us, in the song’s opening line. “Do we dream about each other at the same time?”, he muses, with a giddy optimism that is sustained for the rest of the song.
None of which explains its central mystery: why, pray, is the song named after Mister Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft? “Intermission” I could have understood – but not this one, not at all. Someone needs to ask, don’t they?
10. The Other Side.
Now, what was I saying about other sides? The soft disco chug of the guitar echoes “Comfortably Numb”, just some of Jake’s phrasing echoes that of Roger Waters – but that’s where the comparisons end. Instead, this is a tender declaration of love, made all the more tender by the lower, more confidential register that Jake adopts, in one of the album’s best vocal performances. There’s still a sense of distance between the singer and his lover – between the Big Star and the Ordinary Guy, perhaps? – but unlike “Land Of A Thousand Words”, Jake is trying to accommodate the inevitable gap, and to bridge it as best he can.
Oh, and if we’re going to invite our new famous friends along for the ride, then we might as well go the whole hog and rope in Judy Bloody Garland, sweedie. Yes, you heard. 500 extra Camp Points duly awarded. Oops!
11. Might Tell You Tonight.
The natural companion piece to “The Other Side”, this continues in much the same vein of tender romanticism, with Shears retaining that same intimate lower register, and now plucking up the courage to declare his undying love for his new-found beloved. The effect is genuinely touching (or at least it is if you’re an old softy like me), and the song has enough directness and universality to be adopted as an “Our Tune” for any number of courting couples, of any orientation that you might care to mention. If they wanted a change of pace for the second single, then maybe they should have gone with this one instead. (Or maybe they’re holding it back for Saint Valentine’s Day. I wouldn’t put it past them.)
12. Everybody Wants The Same Thing.
With our emotional journey complete, all we need now is the Big Anthem at the end – and this number, first performed at Live 8 in 2005, duly obliges in spades. Having learnt his life lessons, Shears now turns to face us, his audience – and he’s got some Big Questions to ask of us, hoo yes indeed. Yup, it’s a Message Song – and hence maybe not to everyone’s taste, but I find it rather uplifting, in a self-helpy Pick Up Thy Bed And Walk kind of way. Then again, I’m easily led like that.
Bonus Track: Transistor.
Oh, please. Do you want me to do all the work for you? Our friends have arrived, and it’s time to go and make them feel welcome.
But if you’re still wondering whether to purchase Ta-Dah on Monday lunchtime: Mike Troubled Diva, he say Go For It. This is going to be inescapable over the next few months, so you might as well start getting used to it.