Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mega Man in Glam Rock Land

Warning: This post examines Night Work, the new Scissor Sisters album. Related YouTube clips feature the album artwork, so there will be Robert Mapplethorpe butts throughout. Enjoy!

In the month since Scissor Sister’s newest album dropped, I’ve been listening and enjoying it, certainly more so than the sophomore effort, Ta-Dah, and almost as much as their debut. And that says a lot, since the first album got a lot of play in my car, on my iPod and anywhere I felt could benefit from a beat. But something about the whole Night Work album reminds me of video games — old-school Mega Man in particular — and I can’t determine what.

Maybe it’s the thumping synth beats. They give a specific energy to the songs that’s not unlike what would propel players through early-generation video games. The soundtracks to the Mega Man games themselves often mimicked rock and pop music of the day — the Elec Man stage music sounds suspiciously like Journey’s “Faithfully,” for example — so I suppose it could follow that Scissor Sisters would produce a similar sound as they fuse together genres like glam rock, disco and new wave and then zap the result with digital magic. The notion of Night Work having an overall Mega Man-like sound, however, doesn’t satisfy me. As I listen to its tracks, specific parts of certain songs trigger memories of Mega Man hopping and shooting through levels. I just can’t remember which levels in particular. And in posting this I’m hoping others who have noted the similarities can help me out.

So far, I have pinpointed one similarity: “Sex & Violence” and the music from the Splash Woman stage in Mega Man 9. Listen for the synth melody that begins at the seven-second mark in the Scissor Sisters song and compare it to the whistle-like melody that starts in the Mega Man song at the thirteen-second mark.

Not a perfect match, but if the melodies were played by the same digital instruments, I think the similarity would be striking.

I also hear something in the especially tinny-sounding digital effect that starts around 1:42 in “Any Which Way,” but I can’t place it.

Anyone? Anyone?

Two more connections, neither of them video game-related: the blatantly sexual “Harder You Get” plays very similarly to a strange and very raunchy disco track, “Walk the Night” by — ahem — the Skatt Brothers. (Funny story: I either downloaded “Walk the Night” on accident or while drunk, because I had no memory of it until it started on the iPod one day and filled my unsuspecting ears with some explicit and violent sex talk — the aural equivalent of an ambush biker gangbang.) Check the sung part in the Scissor Sisters song at 2:16 and the almost identical part in the Skatt Brothers song at 3:35, but maybe don’t do so at work unless your office permits the discussion of rough sex.

The track “Invisible Light” also caught my attention. It’s good, and most reviews of Night Work have noted the novelty of its “Thriller”-style spoken word segment, courtesy of Ian McKellan. (It starts around the four-minute mark.) Just prior to buying Night Work, I bought some tracks by La Roux, including “Tiger Lily,” which was announced as a single only a few days before Night Work was released. “Tiger Lily” also features a spoken word section. (It starts at about 2:20.)

Two tributes to Michael Jackson’s greatest song, maybe? The timing would work out to about right.

Finally, I must confess that the only track from Night Work I despise, “Fight Fire With Fire,” happens to be the first single. I yanked it from my playlist after about two listens, and I’m baffled by the decision to lead with this. If you’ve only heard this one, give the rest of the album a spin as well — it’s infinitely better. I mean, hell — I enjoyed Night Work enough to spend this much time thinking and writing about what could have inspired it, right?

If only the Scissor Sisters had some emblematic tie-in with the Mega Man universe to bring all this together… Oh, wait.

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