Jake Shears: Jake Shears – Scissor Sisters frontman dances away the heartache
Freida Jean Records
Given the fact that it’s been almost six full years since Scissor Sisters announced their “indefinite hiatus”, you’d be forgiven for thinking Jake Shears had slunk into the shadows for the foreseeable future to enjoy a life free of the spotlight’s unrelenting glare. That may have been the case up until now, but Shears has obviously hit a creative purple patch once again. In 2017 he made his Broadway debut in the stage production of Kinky Boots; earlier this year he published his autobiography Boys Keep Swinging and now is launching his solo career proper with his debut album. You can assume that any hiatus – at least for him – has drawn to a close.
With Scissor Sisters, Shears helped establish a band that have become as synonymous with the modern pop era as acts like Kylie and Madonna were for generations before them. Thanks to hits like Take Your Mama Out, I Don’t Feel Like Dancing and Filthy/Gorgeous, the New Yorkers blended top-quality melodies with a salacious, unapologetically camp brand of pop music that is still capable of filling dancefloors 17 years after they first formed. His solo debut, however, is not quite as brash as that band’s output; perhaps more titillating than ostentatious. Written around the same time as that aforementioned autobiography – and after the end of his 11-year-relationship to documentary director/producer Chris Moukarbel – Shears relocated to New Orleans, where the vision for this album began to take shape.
That’s not to say that he’s turned his back on his pop roots; on the contrary. While the production of this album takes a “warts-and-all” approach (each song was recorded live in one take, and with musicians culled from bands such as My Morning Jacket and Afghan Whigs), the theatricality and pomp of Shears’s songwriting still bursts through on songs such as the glittering Elton John-style showtune of Good Friends – an homage to the people who make his “blue days better with good wine”. With diverse musical reference points including The Bee Gees and Lou Reed in the mix, the drift towards the 1970s is glaringly obvious on the likes of Sad Song Backwards and, elsewhere, Shears’s love of The Beatles is palpable. S.O.B. and Clothes Off, on the other hand, add some freaky, funky Prince-style guitar into the cacophonous melange, and Everything I’ll Ever Need evokes flashes of Queen in their heyday.
If it sounds like there’s a lot to take in, there is – but, like the Scissor Sisters’ output, once you’re on board it’s an enjoyable ride. Even the songs doused in heartache, such as All for What (“I would trade all of this for your love”), the Roxy Music-inflected Palace in the Sky (“Love is a cruel extortion of life”) and the menacing snarl of The Bruiser, with its stark self-examination, are tempered by Shears’s waggish sense of humour. Big Bushy Mustache is a just that – an ode to facial hair (“All you fellas don’t be jealous / ’Cos you got what you need, set your follicles free”) and is the most Scissor Sisters-like song here, while the sassy S.O.B. is an anthem-in-waiting for hen parties everywhere (“I got sex on the brain / Willpower goes down the drain”).
It’s both a topsy-turvy exploration of Shears’s personal life, a consistently gratifying pop album and an indication that, even when he is at his lowest ebb, he still refuses to take himself too seriously. It seems that there is always room for fun when you’re Jake Shears – and more importantly, there is always, always room for dancing.