Has there ever been a more contrary pop duo than Shakespears Sister? (Sparks are possibly the closest.) They’re a wilful paradox; all glam rock sheen and gothic glower. Named after that Smiths classic, their best work thrives on a push and pull, the ‘Baby Jane‘ imagery and cinematic swoons juxtaposed with acerbic, stomping anthems. Their number one from 1992, Stay, is surely one of the most bizarre hits ever – Marcella Detroit’s extraordinary voice contrasting with Siobhan Fahey’s low feral growl. Yet, it’s a karaoke staple.
Tonight, the perennial pop outsiders return with a theatrical flourish. They make more sense live, as they ooze charisma and mischief, and have a great rapport with the crowd. No mean musicians themselves on guitar, and in Detroit’s case, some glorious bluesy harmonica, they’re also bolstered by a superb band including Ants guitarist and punk legend, Marco Pirroni, and sleek bassist Clare Kenny.
Fahey, resplendent in cowgirl chic, prowls like a cougar – steady now! – around the space, and banters with Lurex-clad Detroit about their infamous, acrimonious split. But there’s an ease these days, as evinced by a tongue-in-cheek airing of You’re History and euphoric bounce of I Don’t Care, the latter surely one of the few 90s singles to contain an RP rap referencing Queen Victoria and swipes at colonialism.
Only Dirty Mind and Are We In Love Yet? feel a little workmanlike. Mid-tempo was never really their style. ‘Let’s get dark again,’ grins Fahey, to ribald whoops. The Trouble With Andre is a real highlight, full of heightened drama, an incandescent synth kiss-off. They always gave good rancour. But they’ll never ‘fess up to who the titular liar is, or was. Meanwhile, a propulsive, teasing Heroine really lets Detroit cut loose vocally.
The vintage influences and love of campy Hollywood iconography now even extends to a Morricone twang, as in noirish new songs All The Queen’s Horses and When You Find Her, flanked by a moody desert backdrop. It’s among the best work they’ve ever made, perfect for the contrasting soprano /contralto harmonies which are absolutely dazzling tonight.
Shakespears Sister are, like the finest silver screen goddesses, best appreciated in wide-screen. They’re ‘ready for their close-ups,’ and looking and sounding absolutely timeless. Suck on that, Bananarama…