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Culturespill’s Plea to Electric Six: Ease the Seat Back!

29th March



In light of troubling news that Electric Six has has hit the studio to record their fifth album in as many years, we at Culturespill thought we’d pose a question their most recent album begs us to ask: what’s the rush, dude? The uncharacteristically boring I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Becoming the Master, out last year from Metropolis Records, made an even more convincing case than its timid predecessor (Switzerland, 2006) for the need to, as Dick Valentine might put it, “ease the seat back.”

It would seem that Valentine, the band’s brainchild, agrees. “Our feet hurt. We need to soak our feet in salt water,” he confessed on the band’s website earlier this year, “We have to address our pediatric issues first and then we’ll worry about the release date of our next record on Metropolis Records. We have begun recording though. It has already begun.” OK–funny funny ha-ha. But as reviews of their latest–and easily their most forgettable–album indicate, a nice warm epsom bath and a cool year off might not be such a bad idea.

Just a few short years ago, we didn’t hesitate for a second before calling E6 the best band currently walking the face of the Earth. There was a ferocious abandon about the band’s debut, Fire–how its stinging combo-pack of punk, disco, arena rock and grade-school sex puns so wholly dismantled the cliches of ’70s rock excess that you loathed yourself for ever pondering that Styx album in your iPod. Even the deeply flawed follow-up, Senor Smoke, which was released in England long before it hit American stores due to distribution snags, evinced a sporadic brilliance that kindled widely-held hopes that the band would find a way back to the addictive blaze and boom of their debut.

It was hardly surprising that E6 had trouble finding Senor a distributor in America, where people no longer distinguish between music and bull piss because FM radio continues to force-feed them overproduced treacle that is about as memorable as a slice of processed cheese. It was equally unsurprising that such tepid reviews welcomed the album upon its release, as Fire was so brilliant, fearless and new that Senor Smoke sounded worse than it actually was.

Most rags in England, where the band scored dance-floor hits with “Gay Bar” and “Fire in the Disco,” trashed the album unmercifully because Valentine danced on Freddy Mercury’s grave during a video for a lame cover of “Radio Ga Ga.” Whatever. The song sucked then and it sucks now, and if E6 intended to prove this with their cover, they succeeded brilliantly. And anyway, Valentine concedes that he only included the cover on Senor Smoke to appease the demands of tasteless roadies who heard the band perform it one time. Like the band itself, it was probably meant as an absurd joke that went horribly wrong.

E6 Video: “Danger! High Voltage”

But that’s exactly the point: there was a time when the bad joke that is Electric Six sounded so right. “Devil Nights,” “Rock N’ Roll Evacuation,” “Dance Epidemic” and “Boy or Girl” were unmistakable E6 gems worth the price of the album alone. And then there’s the hideous “dance moves” Valentine employs on stage—especially those sloppy, half-naked push-ups he performs about 7 beers into every setlist. “I do sit-ups, too,” Valentine told Crave in an interview last year, “but nobody wants to talk about those.” Damn right, Dick. I’m sorry, but there’s something about a guy named Dick doing naked calisthenics for public audiences that’s deeply unsettling. But that’s the whole point with these guys; trauma is their currency. Well, it was.

If Senor Smoke as a whole was a damned mess—and it was—the band did have their excuses: record company strife, the loss of E6’s original lineup, and external pressures such as (“Oh, man! Radio Ga Ga! You gotta put that one on there, dude!”) that all came together at the same time to condemn the album to hopeless oblivion. It’s a testament to Valentine’s fortitude that he even scraped enough tunes together to put out a product that at least resembled an E6 LP.

When Switzerland was recorded so quickly on the heels of Senor Smoke–the chaos that distracted those sessions replaced by a combination of urgency and liberty that might have been the stuff of the next great E6 LP–the watery turd they served up as a finished product gave fans as much pause as it should have given the band. Then came that Exterminate Everything blah blah blah stuff, and suddenly each successive E6 album began to feel like the continuation of some agonizingly prolonged gesture of farewell.

Those who, like yours truly, cling to the band for echoes of the Fire-era E6 in pursuit of further elaboration on Valentine’s three favorite subjects–fire, nuclear war, and gay bars–are treated instead to an evolving aesthetic that’s shocking in its self-importance, given the band’s devotion to self-deprecating absurdity. “When you have a couple hits, people automatically assume that just because you have one song, you can’t write any other sort of song,” Valentine whined in another interview last fall, “Like clearly, based on hearing ‘Danger! High Voltage,’ this band is not capable of doing anything but ‘High Voltage.’ Like right out of the gate. ‘Based on this one song, this band will never, ever have another song besides this song.'” Boo-hoo.

There comes a time when every self-confessed “bar-band”–as Valentine himself describes his crew–must decide whether they will continue to be who they are or become “artists.” As so many bands who’ve gone the “artist” route in the past have proven–The Red Hot Chili Peppers come to mind–it might make you more popular at the local wheat-grass bar, but it isn’t worth a drink of water on the dance floor.

Few acts are capable of delivering the narcotic and unthinking thrill of rock and roll with more abandon or abundance than E6. There is nothing shallow about looking to them for something other than the sober lectures of a Billy Brag album. Sometimes it’s OK for a band to have fun and for fans to go looking for it; but with each increasing album and interview, it sounds like the same guys who waged “nuclear war on the dance floor” in 2003 are more likely to wage war on their fans in 2008.