Scissor Sisters w/the Fitness
Thurs July 22, Neumo's, 8 pm, $10.

Nobody hypes like the British press, which greeted the debut LP by New York City's Scissor Sisters like the Second Coming. "This is the Scissor Sisters' first Greatest Hits collection," gushed Uncut upon the record's UK release (like other edgy American pop acts, the band was test-marketed on Brits first) while elder statesman NME praised the record's cache of songs that "stand up against pretty much anything ever written in the name of pop." With two decades' exposure to UK hype under my belt, I was wary. Were the Scissor Sisters--a ragtag band of thrift-store fashionistas purveying a retro-futuristic blend of '70s pop rock and '80s-and-beyond synth beats--a legitimate find? Or was this just Hayzee Fantayzee Goes to Hollywood?

The answer came within the first three tracks on Scissor Sisters, which span an astonishing wealth of musical turf and pave the way for a thoroughly glorious debut. Yeah, the band's five members are gussied up like freaks, and merely name-checking their influences--Supertramp meets OMD meets Bowie meets acid--is a trip. But underneath the trashy glamour and cheeky pastiche is the undeniable strength of the songwriting. Each of the dozen tracks on the band's debut (which gets its U.S. release on July 27 on Universal) is a distinctly well-crafted pop gem, ranging from Elton John and Bernie Taupin-esque ballads to prime Eno art pop, whose promiscuous influences are anchored to iron-clad bridges while choruses and hooks are buffed to pop-art perfection. (That the album was recorded in bassist/pianist Babydaddy's Brooklyn apartment only ups the allure.)

When the band chooses to leave the songwriting to others, concept carries the day: The Sisters' disco-fied cover of "Comfortably Numb"--seemingly sung from a K-hole on the dance floor--boasts a wit and pathos nowhere to be found in the Pink Floyd original. (Still, I was happy to hear Scissor Sisters slag their hit-single cover to the UK press. "It would suck if it goes to number one," huffed lead singer Jake Shears to Q, "because we have so many better songs than that.")

Like most of the Scissor Sisters' output, Shears' statement is simultaneously rude, campy, and true. "Laura," a stomping glam-rocker laced with goofy carnival piano, kicks things off on a high note that's sustained for the majority of the record, with unfailing inventiveness. ("This will be the last time I ever do your hair," howls Shears at the climax of the song. It's a glorious moment, and perfectly encapsulates the Scissor Sisters' spirit as bred-in-the-bone freaks ready to conquer the world.) "Take Your Mama" rides an acoustic-guitar riff to an irresistible shout-along chorus, "Filthy/Gorgeous" spikes its industrial disco-grind with a hysterical vocal by Shears (the ballsiest falsetto since Mike Tyson), and "Return to Oz" closes the show with an elegy to Seattle's methamphetamine wasteland--"What once was the Emerald City is now a crystal town," sings Shears, a Northwest native [see "Seattle Sister," January 29]--over a swoon-worthy piano ballad. Best of all is "Lovers in the Backseat," a brilliant synth-pop ditty that finds driver/voyeur Jake scanning for make-out songs on the radio while the titular lovers go at it in back. Overall, it's hard to think of another recent record that's channeled so much artistry and wit into the radio-pop genre--a perverse bit of business that's at the core of the Scissor Sisters' art.

In recent weeks, the Sisters' UK star has risen even higher; following the band's knockout set at the Glastonbury Festival, their long-charted debut shot to the top of Britain's album charts, a spot it continues to hold. What's more, each new level of exposure seems to bring the band another celebrity fan, with none other than Sir Elton recently singing the praises of his bastard love-children to the UK press.

This week, the biggest band in Britain brings their famously dazzling stage show on a U.S. tour, and if the crowds at Glastonbury are to be believed, you'd be a fool to miss it. Don't fret about not having heard the record--by creating music this knowingly pop, Scissor Sisters' songs become favorites on first listen.

daves@thestranger.com

Support The Stranger