Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Fire

Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2003 at 12:00 AM

The Electric Six have, after seven years of generally exciting and specifically confusing audiences, released their legitimate debut album.

Fire begins by demanding that “you must obey the Dance Commander” and ends with an invitation to “trip on my synthesizer” and rocks like a hurricane in between with detours into dumb (good), dumb (not so good), hysterical (ha-ha) and hysterical (someone call the doctor, I think this man needs help). It is, in short, a record that will polarize listeners (many likely before they’ve even heard it).

Many will certainly dwell on the insanely infectious disco-metal single, “Danger! High Voltage.” It does, after all, feature a vocal cameo from Jack White, er, John S. O’Leary.

But what is it about Fire?

As much Men Without Hats as Devo, as much Andrew WK as Judas Priest, Fire is somehow its own wicked little beastie, the fever dreams of already-strange men. Demons, nuclear war, fire (of course), improper dancing, fucking, technology, pop music hubris, lyrical sucker punches, disco, funk — a little something for everyone that may not be for everybody.

Much has been made in the press of these guys’ ability to mix the “What the Fuck Was That?!” with the “Who Cares, I’m Rocking Out For Once In My Life!” And that’s only natural since confused-unto-converted is the desired response.

There’s alotta Trojan Horse action going on here: sly wit under stoopid riffs, disco beats and rawk growls and, conversely, a dose of just plain stupidity mounted atop picture-perfect rock ’n’ roll. The E6 are at their best when these contradictions conspire to keep the listener off-kilter. It’s writ large in “Danger! High Voltage,” for one.

On “Naked Pictures (of Your Mother)” singer Dick Valentine growls, “I make lots of money I make more money than you/ I drive around in my limo that’s what I was born to do/ And I might like you better if we fucked together/ but it’s got to be said that I got something better for ya/ naked pictures of your mother. Go!”

Undeniably confusing for the teens to whom the Electric Six will find themselves marketed this summer, but as undeniably, refreshingly fucked-up for adults with rock ’n’ roll Peter Pan syndrome who should flock to this record.

That’s the thing: With Jack White as the E6’s Trojan Horse, these potential one-hit wonders might, through sheer force of oddity, have a ripple effect. For Fire is, if nothing else, both totally uncompromising and completely aware that it’s copping its moves from the handbook of greater pop culture.

Whether invoking Debbie Harry’s horrid rhyme skills on “Dance Commander” (while the band suggests classic mid-’90s alt-rock quiet-loud dynamics mixed with ’80s hair metal and disco), or reappropriating Prince’s lustful “reach down between my legs … and ease the seat back” on “I’m the Bomb” over a scratchy disco-lite-funk, the E6 do more than just work the gimmick. They bend this shit to their purposes.

The band cribs the synth flourish from Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park” to color the power ballad (in form at least) “I Invented the Night,” in which Valentine claims to, of course, have invented the night in his “Laboratory using lust and lies.” But there’s something here that smells like a beer commercial too (and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it ended up there).

The forced smile and startled expression that are hallmark to Dick Valentine’s stage persona are impossible to re-create on record. Instead, he takes on the voice of a man on the verge of conspiranoia who is talking an unsuspecting passerby. It’s deadly serious with shards of metallic rasp and high-pitched hee-hee hiccups — and more than occasionally the whole “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” vibe gives way to the rapturous glee of a man dancing to his own delusions.

As the disco beat kicks in yet again on the album’s closer, “Synthesizer,” for a split second you wonder if it’s Jackos’ “Billie Jean.” And then you’re whisked along on a (of course) synthesized groove that’s lyrically part Anthony Robbins/Army ad empowerment, part ’80s cliché distillation. Oddly enough it is, on the surface, the jokiest song on the album but it’s the only one that doesn’t sound like it’s delivered with a wink.

If anything off Fire makes the leap to radio stateside, the Electric Six might just be the next big one-hit wonders — and with the pure weirdness they’re sneaking into the mainstream, that might just be enough.

Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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