Jake Shears, founder and front-man of Scissor Sisters, releases anthemic solo album ‘Last Man Dancing’ today via Mute.
In a career that has spanned multi-million global album sales, Brits, Ivor Novellos, Grammy award nominations and arena tours, Jake Shears has become a trusted friend to his audience. Just last year, Scissor Sisters’ debut album was named the UK’s twelfth biggest-selling debut LP of all time, whilst Shears himself has continued to shape-shift: he has not only written an acclaimed memoir (‘Boys Keep Swinging’), performed on Broadway (returning for a special appearance of ‘Kinky Boots’ at the Hollywood Bowl last summer), but also recently opened a musical in London to rave reviews (‘Tammy Faye’, produced alongside Elton John and British playwright James Graham). That pull towards the dancefloor, however, has remained a constant throughout Jake Shears’ unorthodox career, resulting in a new album that feels as much of a blast of escapism as it is a spiritual homecoming for the self-confessed Last Man Dancing.
“I figured out something early on with my music,” says Jake Shears, on the edge of launching his joyful latest work. “I worked out pretty quickly how to amplify what I do and make something that everyone can get on board with.” It’s this intersection between marginal feelings and dizzying mainstream success that is perhaps Shears’ superpower. As a musician, performer, songwriter and lyricist he is of that turn-that-frown-upside-down lineage – a born entertainer, but one who has carved out a genuinely subversive success story, too. In good times and bad Jake Shears has remained a beacon of positivity, whilst helping to shape the musical landscape as we now know it.
Recorded between the US, Portugal and London (where he relocated from his New Orleans home during the pandemic), Last Man Dancing was brought to vivid life by Jake and a close crew of collaborators. These include fellow electronic trailblazers like Boys Noize (Kelis, Skrillex), Le Chey, Ryland Blackinton and Vaughn Oliver – who scored a huge hit with Latto’s ‘Big Energy’ – alongside head-turning features that, in Shears’ universe, somehow make total sense: there’s a reunion with Kylie Minogue, features from Jane Fonda, Amber Martin and a pre-Renaissance turn from the iconic Big Freedia, and even the sampled voice of Iggy Pop. Last Man Dancing is full of incandescent nods to dance music pioneers – a Sylvester falsetto here, a Patrick Cowley cowbell there, and a Berghain pulse – all modernised, personalised and right at home in 2023. In moments variously hedonistic, poignant, surreal and euphoric, Jake Shears has turned a lifelong love affair with club culture into his most ambitious pop music to date.
Last Man Dancing begins with first single ‘Too Much Music’, which – from its glam rock overture, dramatic strings and irresistible Nile Rodgers groove – announces itself immediately as a definitive Jake Shears anthem. The sound of a man once broken, then corrected, by the raw power of song and dance – “Well we finally made it / To the Promised Land” – it’s a hymn to the idea that even in times of saturation “there just will never be too much music. I love that lyric, because it’s true isn’t it?” Dance music as armour for the battlefield of life is evident, too, across other album highlights like ‘I Used To Be In Love’, and its emotive, almost Abba-esque title track (“Finally I’m feeling / Something Like alive / I don’t care if it’s happening / At quarter past five”).
Watch The ‘Too Much Music’ Music Video:
As the mirrorball of the album turned, bigger questions surrounding the project – and one’s place in the world – emerged. For Jake, part of the inspiration for the record is reacting to the panoply of voices online, that super-modern need to be heard the loudest above the noise. ‘Do The Television’, for instance, is “about language and the loss of meaning, changing symbols, and forgotten history.” ‘Really Big Deal’, too, could be read as a scathingly funny portrait of contemporary narcissism (“I’ll make you feel like you’ve seen God / But I just call it my face”). Taken as a whole, the analogue feel to Last Man Dancing touches on something that has been lost in the rabble online – mostly by pretending it doesn’t exist.
That disappearance tactic is a further motif of Last Man Dancing. It is all a part of restructuring where Jake Shears belongs: blending into a crowded room, and holding those close to you in it. Shears hands over vocal duties, without ego, to New Orleans Bounce Queen Big Freedia on ‘Doses’, dear friend Amber Martin on ‘Devil Came Down The Dancefloor’, and teams up once again with Kylie Minogue on ‘Voices’ after their classic work on the likes of ‘I Believe In You’. It’s the sort of guestlist only Jake Shears could compile. “To have these people involved and make something of a piece feels really satisfying.”
Last Man Dancing reaches its crescendo on what Shears loosely calls ‘The Suite’, an experimental and ecstatic sequence of club bangers (‘Mess Of Me’, ‘Doses’, ‘Radio Eyes’) mixed together as the party reaches almost dystopian depths. As Jane Fonda promises in her surreal, spoken-word turn, “you will feel rebuilt and transformed / you will have access to information that will expand what you understand as reality.” Handing over the spotlight to passages of pulsating instrumental music, it’s built on Jake Shears’ intuitive understanding of what makes people move, and was even road-tested as it was meant to be experienced. “I opened for Boys Noize at the Crossed Festival in San Diego,” he recalls, “which is the first time I’ve ever played at a proper electronic festival; and the first festival DJ gig I’ve had, outside of club parties. I was terrified.” He laughs. “But it was the first time I’d played the record out and half my set was the album. I’ve never had a record that I could play after midnight in a club and for it to feel absolutely seamless.”
This road towards the album Jake Shears was in many ways born to make has long been dotted with points of defiance, and tenacity. He appeared in a flash of lightning at the start of the millennium (“I was still really a child”) with Scissor Sisters. Their nu-disco cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, recorded for one of the spurious compilations put together for the vogue-ish New York House imprint, A Touch Of Class, was an instant club smash. At the time, Shears was making rent by working part time as a Go-Go dancer in Manhattan gay bars. “And in a way, that never stopped,” he smiles.
Scissors became a fertile flipside to the musical temperature of the early 00s, doused in the spirit of the gay countercultures they’d schooled themselves in. In the UK, they matched the sales of the drivetime hits by Dido and David Gray, while behaving and sounding like their exact antithesis. In America, that ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’ Ramones revivalism mined a furrow of New York rock music, while Scissors sashayed directly from its dancefloors. They were meeting in the bathroom to check one another out and exchange flinty gossip about drag queens. Over four albums, Scissor Sisters carved a new pathway in a homophobic industry, still resistant to the tenets of diversity and inclusion which mark today’s corporate culture. They may still be the last organic pop group to slay Britain with supergay authenticity and integrity, and in Jake Shears, their front-man proves to be the Last Man Dancing.
Even in its high-octane energy, Jake Shears’ new album offers an opportunity to reflect on how he got to where he is today. “I had a really good time, a lot of fun,” he says. “I think the core thing it taught me is that your self-worth has nothing to do with your fame. When those two get mixed up, you’re in for a whirlpool.” Now he is an adult with grown-up concerns, a Go-Go boy no more. But his life’s work is still flecked with that gorgeous instinct learned across club music to dance through the pain, to smile at adversity, to look life in the eye and see the good stuff, the happiness.
Watch the ‘Last Man Dancing’ Music Video:
In February 2022, Jake Shears packed up shop from his home in New Orleans and moved to London: arguably the first city to adopt his music as its own over twenty years ago. “It feels right to be here,” he says. “This is still the centre of everything for me.” The ending of Last Man Dancing, too, feels like a new beginning: ‘Diamonds Don’t Burn’ is a dramatic, frenetic finish, with one final voice (Iggy Pop, sampled from a Canadian radio broadcast) cutting through the cultural noise with a lesson from the past. “That music is so powerful and it’s quite beyond my control when I’m in the grips of it. I don’t feel pleasure and I don’t feel pain. Do you understand what I’m talking about? Have you ever felt like that, when you couldn’t feel anything and you didn’t want to either? It’s like that.”
Now firmly out the other side of a turbulent few years, Last Man Dancing sounds like the Jake Shears that exists in your head when you think of him rollerblading his way unapologetically through pop culture: a fresh start, but also a return to self. It’s this hard-earned path that has allowed a new generation of unapologetic, occasionally outrageous and brilliantly uncompromising pop stars to follow. With songs that still speak evenly to outsiders and the masses, Last Man Dancing is a record for anyone who has felt lost – out of love, on a night out, or in the modern world – but kept moving anyway. Why stand still, after all, when “there can never be too much music for me”?
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