The Scissor Sisters are an American band, but their self-titled debut album came out in Europe almost six months before its arrival in the U.S. Why the delay? You get the feeling that the Scissor Sisters' record company, Universal, was a little nervous about how audiences Stateside might react to these five flamboyant New Yorkers. Never mind that the band's name was inspired by a lesbian sexual position or that lead singer Jake Shears used to perform in drag shows going by a name in excruciatingly bad taste. The Scissor Sisters are the first band in the history of the world to cite Supertramp as a profound artistic influence. They're pushing the bounds of tolerance.
They are also the most enjoyable pop group to emerge in recent memory, largely because they understand the genre so well. Pop music--where the same three chords have been swapping clothes for the past 50 years--is the nexus of the avant-garde and the conventional, and on their debut, out (finally) July 27, the Scissor Sisters--Shears, Babydaddy, Ana Matronic, Paddy Boom and Del Marquis--walk the line with Madonna-like confidence. Take Your Mama, their first single, is about getting Mom drunk on cheap champagne so you can come out of the closet to her while going clubbing with friends. Yet as Shears vaults his falsetto over lines like "You can stay up late 'cause baby you're a full-grown man" and into solidly gay territory, the rest of the band pillages comfortable Top 40 riffs from George Michael's Faith, Billy Joel's Piano Man and anything Elton John didn't bolt to the floor. Take Your Mama feels familiar enough to dance to and new enough to keep you riveted. It's an excellent pop song.
The entire first half of Scissor Sisters is nearly flawless, and impressively diverse too. There's an exuberant dance cover of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb that sounds like New Order fronted by Andy Gibb. Tits on the Radio is a disco-funk rant about the cultural sterilization of New York City. What keeps the whole thing from turning into an orgy of deja vu is Shears. As he struts his way through the material, he radiates a completely original kind of magnetism. He's sexual, commanding and totally goofy--like a man who can't believe his hairbrush and mirror have actually turned into a microphone and a crowd.
The Scissor Sisters still have a few things to work on. The production is less than imaginative, and the album is heavily front-loaded; the last 20 minutes sag. The band generates so much goodwill, though, that it's hard to hold much against them. But they still don't get a pass on Supertramp. --By Josh Tyrangiel