Today marks the 10th anniversary of Scissor Sisters’ self-titled debut album. At the time it was only released in the UK. It came out later in the year in the US. When the band had been recommended to be by a like-minded chat friend, I wasn’t even aware of its existence. I had heard “Comfortably Numb” once. Of course I had, I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan so I had to hear it. The version I heard was an overly long remix (the ‘Deux Mix’ I think) and I thought it to be an interesting novelty. But then I downloaded and heard the album in its entirety. I had no idea what I was in for!
Let me set the scene. It was late 2003 and early 2004, and I was not out of the closet to my friends and family yet. Up until then I was very socially awkward and avoided people a lot. I lived in a small town in Indiana and didn’t feel safe in going out and meeting others like myself. So I mustered up the courage to go to Chicago for the first time and explore the nightlife. All of a sudden my life had this new cast of characters and new adventures. Scissor Sisters was in all ways the soundtrack to this new chapter in my life. Until the album was released in the states later that year I had a CD-R of this album (with the b-sides and remixes so far) always in my car. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Laura” kicks the album off with grand campy swagger, like the child of funk and showtunes. Other than Pet Shop Boys, there really wasn’t anyone in music that I knew (at this point) that was current (not 70s/80s) with lyrics this openly flamboyant and open about being gay. And they celebrated it! Oh my goodness did they!
“Take Your Mama” was like the long lost Elton John classic, about literally taking your mama out on the town and showing her how you and your friends have a good time. To some that seems like “why would I do that?”. In my shoes, right then I only hoped my mom could meet some of my new friends and see this new fabulous world I was discovering. And the song was so damn HAPPY!
Then comes “Comfortably Numb”. This song made many Pink Floyd fans scream “sacrilege”! I was and still am a Pink Floyd fan to an almost religious degree, but luckily I have an open mind to interesting cover versions. “Comfortably Numb” is one of those sacred songs to me that literally changed my life at a crucial point. And yet I can’t help but love the Sisters’ version. If Floyd’s version sounded like it was on some sort of downer drug, then the Sisters’ version was on ecstasy. And sung by the Bee Gees? To the guitar rhythm of “Run Like Hell”? Brilliant! In 1993 the original version helped me lift out of a major depression I was heading towards. But the 2004 version was about the joy I was finally beginning to see in my life. I was happy to have both.
“Mary” is quite the sad but yet empowering song. Jake Shears wrote it for his best friend to help her battle the demons in her life. She not long after that passed away. Such a beautiful ballad about wanting to help someone but feeling out of reach. Following, “Lovers In The Backseat” is a laid back track that rounds out the first half, with Jake almost sounding like Gary Numan at times. A song laden with a little bit of jealousy over friends.
The second half kicks off with the underrated “Tits On The Radio”, with vocals by Ana Matronic. The funked out rave up is an ode to what New York City’s nightlife once was in its sleazy prime. Following this is the masterpiece of the album “Filthy/Gorgeous”. The song never ceases to put a smile on my face and has never worn out its welcome. This is one of the songs that spilled over from the band’s days as a 3-piece, with Jake Shears on Vocals, Babydaddy on almost all instrumentation and programming, and Ana Matronic as the backing vocals, dancer and ringleader of the show. As the band progressed, guitarist Del Marquis was added, along with the only straight man in the group, Paddy Boom. During their concerts this song always brings down the house. Unadulterated sleaze in New York City now had a theme song.
Next is “Music Is The Victim”, a rip-roaring gospel-esque funk rocker about pulling yourself together and reinventing yourself after a bad relationship. “Hell if Jesus has the power than so do I, to rise up from the dead and take up to the sky!”. “Better Luck” is another strong track about relationships gone sour, but at least this one sounds like it had a more amicable ending.
One of the subtle but potent tracks is the somber “It Can’t Come Quickly Enough”. This was first released as part of the Party Monster movie (a movie I very highly recommend). The vibe and lyrics of the song summed up that morning after feeling every time I had to come back to my boring normal life after a weekend in the big city, and about the friendships I felt I was missing out on being so isolated from the other cities.
And then the closing masterpiece, “Return To Oz”. The song is a memorial for Jake’s friends that he lost to the crystal meth epidemic. The lyrics are mainly culled from imagery and details from the movie of the same name. This happens to be one of my favorite movies from my childhood. Appropriately he threw in a little bit from The Dark Crystal as well. In doing so he painted a perfect symbolic picture of what it was like revisiting the same clubs and friends of earlier in his life post-meth and seeing the destruction in its wake. Very sad… very beautiful musically.
The UK version tacked on two bonus tracks, “The Skins” and “Get It Get It”. Both were from their slightly previous indie label days and are mainly high energy dance tracks. There are also many b-sides and demo tracks from the 2001-2003 era worth seeking out such as “The Backwoods Discoteque” (Both parts 1 and 2), “Step Aside For The Man”, “Monkey Baby”, “Electrobix”, “Available (For You)”, and “Rock My Spot (Crevice Canyon)” – a funky rocker about… umm.. cunnilingus. As Ana Matronic would say in the concert DVD We Are Scissor Sisters… And So Are You!, “Who says you have to write what you know?”.
This album will remain one of my favorites as long as I live. It was one of the few albums I’d heard at that point that made living on the fringe of society sound exciting and fun. It celebrated being different. It made it seem like an endless celebration rather than a self-help session. But the lyrics were well thought out and really applied to me. Part of my exploration of Chicago was seeing Scissor Sisters twice on the tour for this album. First at the Metro. The sense of community at this show was like nothing I’d experienced this far. Every walk of life was in that crowd, and the band made us feel like one of them. They kicked the camp and the party up to 11 and didn’t look back. I saw them later at The Vic. The crowd had grown a bit in size but the experience didn’t change because of it. I even got to meet Paddy Boom briefly after the show. Unfortunately a snow storm was moving in and I had to leave… so I missed meeting the rest of the band. I really wanted to thank them for being that ray of light in an everyday life that I felt trapped in. A year later I moved away to Columbus, a much bigger city, made many friends and acquaintances, and finally gained my self confidence which set all the right parts of my life in motion. And three albums were on constant repeat in my car during these adventures. Green Day’s “American Idiot”, The Killers “Hot Fuss”, and still… Scissor Sisters.
Pick up your own copy of the album HERE:
Here are the videos released from the album (some not on YouTube sadly) and some killer live performances:
“Laura” (Version 1):
“Take Your Mama”:
“Laura” (Version 2):
“Tits On The Radio” (Live):
“Music Is The Victim” (Live at T in the Park Festival 2004):
“Return To Oz” (Set to clips of the movie of the same name):