Jake Shears is best known as the lead singer of Scissor Sisters who have been on a hiatus since 2012. Their career took off with the word of mouth success of their refreshing debut album in 2004. Over three more releases, the band suffered with diminishing record sales. Ta-Dah had found them too eager to please with a case of identity crisis. After a false start they took four years to put out the brilliant, Night Work (their darkest, most exciting and least commercial album). By the time 2012’s underwhelming, Magic Hour appeared, they again seemed lost. An obvious hit was bizarrely cancelled (‘Shady Love’) and a generic Calvin Harris co-write was pushed instead (‘Only The Horses’). A second obvious hit was released too late to reach its full commercial potential (‘Let’s Have Kiki’). To witness such a loveable band end that chapter of their career on a whimper was at odds with the sense of identity and character that made people fall for them initially.
For his first solo album, Shears has revealed that he’s fully embraced his bands’ past. Lead single, ‘Creep City’, Shears has returned to the mix of glam and 70s singer-songwriters that made was sprinkled over their classic debut (especially ‘Laura’). The bass-line has a swagger that blends with the harmonies and cabaret-styled strings. The brilliantly titled, ‘Big Bushy Moustache’ has similar 70s influences with added grit thanks to the fuzzy guitars that have a touch of St. Vincent. These singles quickly reveal Shears isn’t messing around in trying to grab our attention.
‘Sad Song Backwards’ also draws from the same pool of influences as their first album. It has a tinge of country that made ‘Better Luck’ such a delight. The surprisingly upbeat backing is a deliciously twisted contrast for this song of heartbreak and self medication as Shears sings, “make believe that I’m not pacing up and down these walls taking double fistfuls of Prozac”.
‘Everything I’ll Need’ begins as piano ballad that again that finds Shears reflecting on his relationship ending, “not sure who I am without you anymore, but that’s ok”. The warm Elton John meets E.L.O chords turn into an unexpected jaunty interlude before going back into the chorus. It ends with extravagant strings that sound like a show tune (which is fitting given Shears recent turn on Broadway). The end result is a little overstuffed, but the ambition is admirable.
‘All For What’ is an emotional highlight. Shears gives a heartbreaking vocal as he sings, “I can’t make my soul try not to love you”. The melody and instrumentation is suitably melancholic and wistful, with the strings in particular providing a very moving backdrop. In a stark contrast, it’s followed by ‘S.O.B’ (which stands for sex on the brain) which is disco/rock mashup that’s fun, albeit a little throwaway. ‘Clothes Off’ mixes those genres more successfully thanks to the memorable chorus and the deep funk of the bass. Shears hasn’t lost that sense of humour that was essential to his/Scissor Sisters appeal
This album is a little too uneven to make it stand with the best Scissor Sisters releases, but it does showcase his personality well. It’s his most direct album that’s a document of his heartbreak. Sometimes he chooses distraction via the dancefloor and not taking life so seriously. Sometimes he deals with it head on addressing the pain through self reflection. As, ‘Mississippi Delta (I’m Your Man)’ closes the album in typically over the top fashion, it’s a relief to hear him so in control again. There are signs here to show his next step (whether solo or with the band) could well reach his previous highs again. It’s good to have him back.
Jake Shears is released on 10th August through Freida Jean Records.