Because of their flamboyance and aggressive pursuit of camp appeal, it’s easy to overlook how smart Scissor Sisters is about their approach to pop. To that end, their latest effort, Night Work, is the band’s most successful and fully realized work to date. The asstastic Mapplethorpe photograph on the cover isn’t just used for shock value: It’s a perfect choice for an album that approaches leering as its primary raison d’être.
Throughout songs like “Sex and Violence,” “Skin Tight,” and lead single “Fire with Fire,” frontman Jake Shears and his cohorts ogle damn near every man and woman in their direct line of sight, turning even the most absurd of pickup lines into outsized pop hooks. Few acts could hope to match the balance between humor and balls-out sleaze that the Sisters strike here. While their terrific self-titled debut and slightly less-so Ta-Dah! both boasted a progressive and decidedly non-mainstream brand of sexual politics, it’s on Night Work that their freak flag entirely unfurls.
When Shears sneers lines like “I think I’ll need a rubber tonight” or “When we got home, I got your tail between my legs” on “Whole New Way,” there isn’t even a hint of hesitation or apology. And Shears isn’t alone: One of the album’s highlights is Ana Matronic’s spoken-word bridge to “Any Which Way,” on which she implores a man who “smells like cocoa butter and cash” to fuck her in front of his yacht or in front of her parents. The album works as a celebration of sluttiness.
The album’s exuberance comes from Scissor Sisters’s emphasis on that sense of celebration in their arrangements. Night Work is easily the most heavily dance-oriented of their albums. Gone are the Elton John-style piano-pop tunes, and throbbing disco beats drive “Harder You Get” and the title track, which boasts an arrangement that pays homage to Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand’s “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).” The slinky new-wave production on “Skin This Cat” and “Night Life” is no less effective in maintaining the record’s tone.
By matching their sound so adriotly to the content of their songs, Scissor Sisters makes Night Work an album of real structural sophistication. Their singleminded focus on getting laid may not make for the most highbrow thesis, but it does make for an album that provides both depth and instant gratification.