Like the emcee in “Cabaret,” Jake Shears invites us into his new eponymous solo debut album, a smart, eccentric and at times outlandish record that feel like its own self-contained cabaret performance.
Shears is best known as a founding member of the pop group Scissor Sisters. The group went on hiatus in 2012 following the album “Magic Hour,” a Billboard No. 1 album on the Top Dance/Electronic chart which featured the single “Let’s Have A Kiki.” Shears has since appeared alongside Kylie Minogue in the 2015 single “The Other Boys,” published a memoir and made his Broadway debut in “Kinky Boots” — coincidentally in the same role played by Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie last summer. But in his first solo album (out last week), the 39-year-old singer seems interested in branching out from his previous work, experimenting with country and blues.
The album begins with a short “Introduction” that serves as a show opener and cements the performative element of the album: Piano and orchestra bounce along merrily and end with a drum roll that leads into “Good Friends.” Complete with bluesy piano and a saxophone solo, this track sets a fun, upbeat tone for the rest of the album. Shears hits his signature nasally falsetto in the bridge, putting him in his usual disco-ish vocal territory. It’s a solid start for the record and a fair sample of the whole.
The lead single “Creep City” is the theatrical climax of the album, due in no small part to the delightful music video. Under Mac Boucher’s direction, the curtain opens on Shears as the glamorous, seductive cabaret master — feathers, chapeau and all. And as if a reference to Cabaret’s “Money Money,” he sings: “Get me out of this creep city/I’m flat broke and I don’t need pity right now.” Throughout the song, the lyrics buzz with the smart aleck wit of the best Scissor Sisters songs.
“Sad Song Backwards,” one of the best cuts, has a country sound. The chorus has the feel of Nashville-based singer Margo Price’s “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” but a few clicks faster and with a strong theatrical component. Shears’ country stylings feature both a horn section and back-up singers better suited to Broadway than Nashville, but are a natural fit.
Perhaps the most clever track is the single “Big Bushy Mustache.” The album cover shows a pajama’d Shears with a prominent mustache lounging on a green antique couch. With his typical sense of humor, the singer winks at fellow follicle enthusiasts: “I want a porn star handlebar/And a neon pink Mustang as my second car.” But despite its clever lyrics, the song is less musically innovative than many of the other tracks. Shears instead opts for a more straightforward rock ’n’ roll sound.
The song “Mississippi Delta (I’m Your Man),” an ode to Shears’ current home of New Orleans, sounds as though it could have been recorded by Elton John, and the influence of “Superstition” on the song “Clothes Off” is unmistakable. There is also the pervasive influence of Queen and ‘70s disco throughout the album. But for Shears, variety is virtue. And if it’s his musical eccentricity that keeps him out of the American mainstream, it’s also what makes him so endearing.