tuesday, april 04, 2006
Senor Smoke - Electric SixEvery so often, despite your best efforts to insulate yourself from it, the "buzz" finally becomes too much to ignore.
There will be some band, or show or film everyone who is anyone is talking about it and you gotta check it out at least to stay abreast of the references folks are dropping.
So, after a heaping helping of hints and suggestions I finally snuggled up to the warm bosom of iTunes and procured Electric Six's second album Señor Smoke.
My complete assessment of this album can be summarised thusly:
And lordy, cheesy it is. Everything from singer Dick "I'm dying for your sins on the dance floor" Valentine's overwrought vocals to the dueling guitar histronics of The Colonel and John R Dequindre to the squeeky-clean production work of Peter & Peter. But if there is a redemptive aspect to cheese, this album is wallowing in it.
The band clearly harks back to that carefree hedonism of the late 70s and early 80s when AIDS hadn't arrived yet and punk hadn't pooed in the punchbowl of the music industry. You could pull off this kind of act with style and some modicum of grace and pull in more strange than Wilt Chamberlain on a good night. And, Lordy, the drugs were so much cheaper then.
Reviews of the band and album invariably describe them as a mix of metal, disco and punk. That seems a bit off base to me. They are unabashedly that brand of rock that flourished in the early 1980s that made The Baby's a big hit. Of course they are good enough musicians to incorporate other elements into the sound and invigorate it. But they are smart enough to know their bread and butter lies under the mirror ball and their music stays loyally there.
It's kind of tough imagining these guys coming from Detroit but one shouldn't underestimate those scrappy midwesterners. The Motor City certainly isn't a musical vaccuum - it did produce The Stooges, MC5 and Ted Nugent. If I were to compare Electric Six to any recent band it would have to be Urge Overkill; another act that put the style before substance but had the cajones to pull it off. Like their Chicagoan brethren, you get the feeling Electric Six put a hell of a lot of time figuring out what the hell they were going to wear before they even considered picking up their instruments.
Which is not to say they disregarded the music side altogether. Lordy no! This baby has a heaping helping of right on guitar work strewn with electronic tittering designed shaking your groove thang. The hooks are hooky as you could ask for and the chops are finger licking good. Not since the Dandy Warhols Come Down has a record contained so many songs that made you want to "snort coke off a starlet’s tits shortly before wrapping your Mercedes/McLaren around a telephone pole," as the guys from EDSBS once put it.
For the most part, Electric Six sticks with the foreplay and leave the sex at home but the slap and tickle of "Vibrator" and the lonely ride home alone in "Taxi to Nowhere" are wonderful excursions off the dance floor.
But what grabs your attention from the get go is the vocal angonzings of lead singer Dick Valentine. It is clear that Valentine has gone to the Gene Simmons school of Rock & Roll vocals and graduated with an advanced degree in Dennis DeYoung studies. His campy disco drawl squeezing every bit of vapid emotion out of the lyrics. And the lyrics. It's probably best just to behold them here in the cold clear light of day:
When bad girls start wrestling/Everyone wants to be the referee
I'm a man, not a disco ball.
We’ll karaoke all night long/We’ll Macarena till the break of dawn
Your body is something I might not survive.
Like I said before. 100 percent pure...
Sadly, the effect doesn't work nearly as well when the band tackles "important" issues like nuclear destruction (um... guys... Reagan is dead.) and the war in Iraq.
Mr. President make a little money, sending people you don’t know to Iraq/Mr. President I don’t like you, you don’t know how to rock
Ummm... It's probably better if they stick to the zipless fuck and taking care of the disco inferno from now on.
The real reason this record works so well is the band is so completely over the top that this has to be tongue-in-cheek. But because it is so gloriously and self rightously hedonistic there is no way they can be serious and, even if they are, that makes it even funnier. (I made the mistake of listening to this album all the way through for the first time while during one of my runs. I kept having to stop I was laughing so hard.) But, I think, the cover of Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" is more telling than just a delightful diversion.
Freddy Mercury never had any problem of wearing campy on his sleeve and, though some sort of genius and sheer charisma, he was able to pull it all off. Because, at heart, you felt he really believed Rock & Roll was serious business even if it's main point was not being serious about anything. "Radio Ga Ga" is an often overlooked great song that embodied this point and that Electric Six chose to play into it's straight-faced camp factor rather than make the whole proceedings a joke tells a lot about how the band looks at the music.
Because even if this is completely disposable music, it is all the more delightful for it. This is music for teenagers driving around in their first car with blasting the speakers loud enough to make anyone within a three block radius bleed from the nose and develop tinnitus. "Rock & Roll Evacuation" is going to become a treasured part of their past, as clumsy and fucked up and stupid as it is turning out to be.
And it is going to be all the more wonderful years down the road when they get a little nostalgic and they play this little album on their headsets while they sit in their work cubicle waiting for 5 p.m. to arrive.
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