Depending on your point of view, there’s some good news and some bad news about Fire, the sleazy, glammy, garage-y, disco-ey and otherwise batshit-insane album from Detroit-based band Electric Six. First, the good news: They’re this year’s Andrew W.K. The bad news: They’re this year’s Andrew W.K. AWK’s quasi-ironic I Get Wet alienated as many critics as it won over and the E-6 are bound to be no different. With a mountain of hype built largely on the UK chart success of the Jack White-aided two-year-old single “Danger! High Voltage” (see more below), the Electric Six—bassist Disco, drummer M., rhythm guitarist Surge Joebot, lead guitarist Rock-N-Roll Indian, keyboardist Tait Nucleus and lead singer Dick Valentine—are ready to start anew a stateside battle among critics on the merits of irony rock. But will anyone else care?
If nothing else, the E-6 have a kickass sense of humor. The band bio notes that the group was formed, boy-band like, based on their individual psychological profiles. For instance, Valentine “bears some symptoms of schizophrenia” (this may be true: his voice runs from joky-sexy growl to full-blown falsetto), while Rock-N-Roll Indian “may have been raised in the wild, and by monkeys”. None of this actually helps determine how good an album Fire is, but hey, it’s funny, and it’s shines some light on what kind of deviants we’ve got on our hands.
This history seems a little more believable: The band formed in Detroit in the late ‘90s under the moniker the Wildbunch (a name they were forced to change to Electric Six when the Massive Attack crew came calling for it), released a handful of shitty albums, then finally struck gold in 2001 when “Danger! High Voltage” found its way onto 2 Many DJ’s As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Part 2 2002 mix CD. The song landed at number two on the—where else?—UK charts, and now they’ve released an album as Electric Six, Fire, which of course, includes “Danger! High Voltage”. Got it?
As for the album itself tracks like “Dance Commander”, “Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother)”, and “She’s White” only hint at the whirlwind mix of garage, disco and lyrical insanity contained on Fire. Valentine’s “It would be so awesome if we could dance!” from “Dance Commander” is delivered with such high hopes, one wants to believe every line that pours from his mouth. “She’s White” could be the half-witted class clown kid brother to X’s “White Girl”, as Valentine, backed by Nucleus’ keyboards, boasts about his girlfriend’s pigmentation: “She’s white like the light / Never like the night”. It’s laugh out loud funny. The follow-up single to “Danger!” is the surf-tinged “Gay Bar”, which features some of Rock-N-Roll Indian’s best guitarwork, and the line “Girl I wanna take you to a gay bar / Let’s start a nuclear war / At the gay bar”. “She’s White” and “Gay Bar” are both too funny, too harmless (read: dumb) and too catchy to be considered racist or homophobic. But these guys will take your attention any way they can get it.
Throughout the first half of the album Valentine hints at a sex god/disco machine alter ego, but he doesn’t slip on the leisure suit all the way until the back half of Fire, where the triumvirate of “Getting Into the Jam”, “Vengeance and Fashion” and “I’m the Bomb” answer the question, What if Frank Zappa’s Disco Boy joined forces with Midnite Vultures-era Beck at his most faux-unctuous? “Getting Into the Jam” is worthy of Tenacious D (“We got sex plans!”), while the sleazy “Vengeance and Fashion” gets two of the best lines on the album: “I’m a man and I’m torn between vengeance and fashion” and “I look good in your bed / And you think I look good / And everybody’s happy tonight!” Priceless. At least for a few spins. “I’m the Bomb” is funky and slow by their standards, but one-ups Beck with “3-2-1 I’m the bomb / And I’m ready to go off in your shit”, and nicks a line from the bridge to Van Halen’s “Panama”. (Between the cockrock mentality, the dancing, the outsized ego and the juvenile sense of humor, Electric Six could very well worship at the Shrine of David Lee Roth, no?) It all ends with the synthesizer-heavy “Synthesizer”, which sounds like nothing so much as Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance”. Funny, sleazy, thrilling, exhausting . . .
. . . But the problem is none of it tops “Danger! High Voltage”. Between the danceable riff, the opening “Fire in the disco! / Fire in the - Taco Bell!” line, Valentine and Jack White’s (er, “John S. O’Leary”, as he’s billed; we’ll play along.) demented call and response, the fantastically cheesy ‘80s-informed saxophone solo and a video complete with light-up bras, codpieces and moose cocks and White’s part poorly lip-synched by a severe German-looking woman named Tina Kanarek, Electric Six has crafted the Garage Rock Revival scene’s first one-hit wonder. Sure, Fire warrants a few spins, but be sure to leave room on your shelf next to I Get Wet and Tenacious D for Fire when its novelty wears off.