While I’m on the subject of “novelty bands done right” (see my prior entry), I’ve been really digging Electric Six lately. Of course I don’t mean to demean the band by calling them a novelty, but that was certainly the impression they made on a lot of people. You see, Electric Six committed the crime of being too funny, which, combined with the band’s oversexed machismo and penchant for hard-hitting riffs, resulted in one helluva a debut album. Fire, released 2003, was one of those albums that sounds like the greatest thing on the planet the first three times, and then you never want to hear it again. Regardless, the presence of two unforgettable, what-the-hell-did-I-just-hear singles (“Danger! High Voltage” and “Gay Bar”) made the album a big seller, especially in the wake of Tenacious D and The Darkness, which ushered in an era of parody hair metal. Though Electric Six were never as popular as they were in that moment, to their credit, they’ve soldiered on at an impressive pace – this month sees the release of their 12th album, which is about eight more than you would’ve expected them to have at this moment back in 2003 (Tenacious D are still on their second, and who knows what happened to The Darkness?).
Granted, I have not heard a number of these albums yet, but I’ve started to gather that Fire is a bit of a toss compared to their other work. It’s too played up, too much in character, and once you remove the singles and “Synthesizer”, the songs just aren’t very good. Alas, that character is what got them so much attention, so why bother with a “toned down” Electric Six? This must’ve been what the fans were thinking, anyway; by 2006 they’d become a fringe act, though to their credit that hasn’t slowed them down much. Truth is Electric Six were more than just a hair metal parody act; strip their songs down to the core and you hear a lot of disco and synthpop, just with more hair on their chests. Most of this is thanks to lead singer Dick Valentine, whose bombastic vocal delivery defines this band more than anything else, save perhaps the lyrics. If you’ve heard the band you know exactly what I’m talking about – often it sounds like they’re parodying bands like KISS, but with the addition of some of the strangest non sequiturs I’ve heard this side of Sparks (“Ever since I met you, you were someone I knew”).
I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master is the band’s 4th album, and their first since essentially falling off the planet. If you’ve only heard Fire, you’ll likely be impressed by how much more sophisticated the band’s sound has gotten in the interim. Despite the band’s lowered profile, this sounds like a big budget album, with some unexpected instrumental flourishes (real horns on “It’s Showtime!!”, probably fake strings on “Dirty Looks”) and punchier production than the band’s earlier material. More depth, too; regardless of the band’s total lack of subtlety, this is the sort of album that reveals itself over time. A bit of fatigue kicks in over the album’s 16 songs – surely some of these could’ve been ditched – but they do space out the good songs well. Which is what it’s all about; Electric Six are the kind of band that are generally pretty good, but their albums tend to boil down to how much killer material is on them. In this case, I’d rate several: the Andrew W.K. style rocker “Down At McDonnelzzz” (someone afraid of getting sued?), the melancholy and powerful “When I Get to the Green Building” (which apes Numan’s “Down in the Park”, a song they’ve sampled outright in the past), the absurdly catchy “Kukuxumushu” (which could be a Kimono-era Sparks tune), and “Dirty Looks”, perhaps the most weirdly earnest song they’ve done up to this point.
As for the rest…there’s plenty of the balls-out rock they’re known for (“Rip It!” “Feed My Fuckin’ Habit”, “Randy’s Hot Tonight”, “I Don’t Like You”, “Lenny Kravitz”), though frankly I think the more out-there tunes tend to work better (“It’s Showtime!”, “Fabulous People”). A few duffers here and there – I can never remember a damn thing about “Broken Machine”, and “Lucifer Airlines” is just kinda droll in a way this band really can’t afford to be. Indeed, by the time “Lenny Kravitz” rolls around you’re waiting for the band to reveal a few more tricks, which thankfully they do on the last three songs. As a result, I Will Exterminate… comes off as their most balanced and complete album yet, though sadly much of the mainstream reaction was “I don’t think this is funny anymore” (by the way, I strongly disagree with this – their lyrics get funnier and more absurd every album). If you’ve never been on board with these guys I wouldn’t expect this album to change your mind, but as someone on the fence, I gotta say, I’ve been reaching for this album an awful lot.