SCISSOR SISTERS with DJ SAMMY JO at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Tuesday (July 20). $13. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Remember when it was hip to be a music snob? When any self-respecting indie nerd would turn up his or her nose at anything with major-key hooks and singalong choruses, and the key to scenester cred was an encyclopaedic collection of unlistenable avant-garde noise? Things were so much simpler then. Who would ever have guessed that Huey Lewis was 20 years ahead of his time when he proclaimed that it was hip to be square?
Strange days indeed when the hippest young band to break out of New York and make it big overseas shamelessly profess their love for Elton John, George Michael and the Bee Gees.
The Scissor Sisters shouldn't be this good - they're hip and smart, but they'd rather reference classic rock, white disco and gay pop than anything with indie credibility.
Flamboyant lead singer Jake Shears isn't apologizing. He's too busy hanging out in the studio with Fischerspooner, accepting praise from Sir Elton and gloating over the fact that Pink Floyd love his 80s disco remake of Comfortably Numb.
"Before the record came out, there were a lot of preconceptions about us. It seems if you step out on a limb, people think you're making a joke, but this comes from our hearts. It doesn't all sound like 'cool' music, but no one can tell me that Elton and Bernie didn't make 10 amazing records in a row. We're not a joke band - we work too hard at this for that."
Thank god this isn't more hipster irony. Critiquing pop culture is like shooting puppies at a kennel - not much sport in that pursuit. Funny enough, Scissor Sisters were initially tied in with the heavily irony-fuelled electro-clash bandwagon, but even stranger, Shears doesn't mind.
"Electro-clash got cut short. We don't know what would have happened, because it got defined so quickly. Sometimes we like to think that this might be what it would have evolved into if it had had the chance."
Here's the story in a nutshell. Five years ago, Shears met multi-instrumentalist Babydaddy and started writing cheeky pop songs. They soon hooked up with performance artist Ana Matronic (one of the few straight members of the band and the only woman), who provided backup vocals and some cabaret venues for their early shows. They're now a full band, with a guitar player, drummer and keyboardist, and their debut album has been provoking embarrassingly fawning revues the world over.
Truth be told, it's a perfect summer record - catchy, bouncy, and rocking. The gay subtext is probably the only thing keeping them in the alternative category. On first listen, it could be a chart topper from 1979. When Shears comments that the majority of it was recorded in an apartment studio with no budget, the reality of how much the music industry is changing sets in.
You used to be able to separate the underground from the mainstream by poor production values, meagre musicianship and an "experimental" aesthetic. Suddenly, the affordability of computer-based recording and indie rock's embrace of guilty pleasures has rendered those distinctions moot, and our record collections are much more listenable as a result.