There's some irony in the way the current wave of retro-inclined modern-rock acts has critics praising sounds they once shunned. People who used to choke on Journey and Kenny Loggins have swallowed Andrew W.K. with a smile, and now the New York glam-pop band Scissor Sisters is forcing a secondhand appreciation of Elton John and the Bee Gees. There's some justice to it all: If Scissor Sisters hadn't made itself buzzworthy with elaborate, gender-bending cabaret shows, some might not have accepted a pop ballad as glorious as the group's "Mary," with its watery electric piano and soft, syncopated drums. Melding a "friends forever" message with a sketch of heartbreak, "Mary" captures the sincere tone and ambiguous commitment of classic '70s lite-rock. It's both homage and explanation.
The rest of Scissor Sisters' self-titled debut is more scattershot. Taking a cue from the band members' goofy stage names (Paddy Boom, Babydaddy, Ana Matronic, and so on), a lot of the record is filled with trashy dance-floor-directed throwaways like "Filthy/Gorgeous" and "Music Is The Victim." Even Scissor Sisters' signature song, a cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," is a joke that gets less funny with each telling. The group directly quotes the guitar line from Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" and the "aah aah aah" harmonies of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," while using Pink Floyd's lyrics and the song's basic melody. It's an amusing deconstruction, but not the triumphant tribute to Top 40 kitsch that Scissor Sisters intends.
Still, Scissor Sisters hits some impressive heights. The debaucherous, robotic "Tits On The Radio" is a well-directed camp exercise, and the Elton John/Todd Rundgren pastiches "Take Your Mama" and "Better Luck" sound undeniably snappy. The group even equals "Mary" with the concept-defining anthem "Lovers In The Backseat," a slinky toe-tapper that equates pop music with furtive sex.