Single Review: Scissor Sisters – ‘Only The Horses’

“The musical refrain climaxes in a prostitutes-on-poppers finale”

3 STARS

Digital Release: May 13, 2012

Physical Release: N/A

Scissor Sisters never have been ones to make a bee-line for the mainstream, but they found their way into it by settling for a successful compromise between their obviously gay song subjects and mass public appeal for anyone with a penchant for 70’s-inspired glam-disco. But given the drastic change of demographic focus from borderline mainstream to nigh-on fascist perversion in 2010’s ‘Night Work’, you can’t help but feel some of the Fat Cats at Polydor weren’t best pleased with the deadpan public reception of an album buoying commercialism on a single song, which then let itself sink spectacularly when the proper material kicked in. Cue some behind-the-scenes manager conferencing and a few meetings for brunch at the American foursome are now hooking up with the far more dependently sellable Calvin Harris, the current Go-To guy for a quickfire hit, and one promotional managers can dress up in any number of misleadingly dissembled lies.

Now, 2012 will be, and already has been to a large extent, the Year of the Calvin Harris machine. It will be the year that the now practically pensionable David Guetta will bow away from the spotlight and abdicate the title of producer de jour for however long it takes Harris to do the rounds of the biggest UK and US names. An odd stop before the long haul though, is the relatively forgotten-about Scissor Sisters, now seemingly re-emerging from the leather-clad bondage basement they welded themselves shut in for their third album. To any fans or even casual listeners hyperventilating at the thought of Harris’ handbag house manifesting and bleaching the effervescent vibrancy of Scissor Sisters, not all is lost in the wake of ‘Only The Horses’ – from its title alone it could be construed that there is plenty of Jake Shears and Co.’s  glamorous panache evident here, despite it’s credits originally feeling like another jarring re-calibration of image and sound and that any critical success the song achieves is due to Harris. But make no mistake here: the truth is that any brilliance of this track is not in Harris’ ability to take slight, two-bar piano twinkles and fatten them up with enough gusto to power a hydraulic dam, but in the few signs left in the song – that thankfully stand out like dildos in a library – that suggest it’s the work of Scissor Sisters. 

It’s the reliably skewed lyrical visionary that, whilst treading dangerously close, never actually crosses the line between head-scratching and mildly amusing. You forgive the interesting choice of saviour and any possible sexual connotations it may hold; you forgive Shears’ voice scaling up and down the chorus lyrics all in the name of this being a Scissor Sisters song; there’s every indication that Scissor Sisters know exactly what they’re doing here. Meanwhile, over in Calvin’s corner, he can be commended for appropriately capturing the size and scale required to achieve the overtly outlandish statement that many a Scissor Sisters song makes, but a lot of what we is him see from his end of the bargain we’ve seen before. ‘Only The Horses’ features the same chord progression processed over and over again until the chorus pops along and the piano refrain that opened the song returns. There’s even the big Calvin Harris gunshot sound effect™ when it all, quite literally, ‘goes off’ and the musical refrain climaxes in a prostitutes-on-poppers finale. You can imagine this song being played very loudly, to a reasonably large number of people who are all happy enough to wail the surreptitiously phallic back at the speakers; a quality that you could argue, for instance, ‘Invisible Light’ lacked (even though said song remains just about the best thing Scissor Sisters have ever recorded).

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