Disco-haters and genre purists found little joy in the late '70s, when the indestructible beat of Saturday Night Fever drove even rock icons like The Rolling Stones to make synthetic dance records. But those who prefer their music crossbred and even a little adulterated keep returning to that era, when ambitious prog types channeled their energies into Top 40 songs, and sensitive singer-songwriters learned to boogie. For all the critical sneers that greet them, the hit songs of 1978 and 1979 are suffused with a relatable kind of uncertainty, as the anxieties over a messy decade and a changing pop landscape wormed their way into factory-made, radio-ready singles.
Scissor Sisters kick off their sophomore album Ta-Dah with a song that could've been plucked from that time. "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," a collaboration with '70s survivor Elton John, has the disco thump, retro-rock bounce, and Star Wars sound effects of a machine-tooled Me Decade pop product, but the song's grumpy sentiment animates it. For all the inescapable toe-tapping force, "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" is a song about sitting disdainfully against the wall while everyone else has a good time. It's a song of spiteful refusal. It has a beating, broken heart.
Unfortunately, Scissor Sisters share another trait with the acts they idolize: They only produce a handful of great songs per album. Like the band's self-titled 2004 debut, Ta-Dah is full of middling fare that coasts on busy arrangements and kitschy sexuality. Still, when Scissor Sisters pull their talents and influences together for songs like the earnest outsider ballad "Land Of A Thousand Words," the beautifully vacant "The Other Side," and the exultant, funky tribute "Paul McCartney," the wrenching emotion of pop's most maligned era drips off, mingled with its potent cocaine sweat.