Does Humor Belong In Music? No, Seriously, Does It?
Somebody, and I want to say it was Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield, once remarked that the Bloodhound Gang’s eurotrash rip “The Bad Touch” was one of the few songs that was funny in spite of its lyrics, not because of them. Well, the Electric Six’s sophomore album Senor Smoke is chock full of songs that have the honor of sharing that dubious category. If you avoid listening to the lyrics, Senor Smoke is a hilarious dance-punk riff where pristine recording techniques are used to capture the sound of the cheapest keyboards available. However, this music is in service to crippling lame joke songs about fast food and vibrators. There’s only one line on the entire album that I found funny, which comes in the opener “Rock and Roll Evacuation”: “Mr. President I don’t like you / You don’t know how to rock”. And, even then, it’s only funny if you give the band the benefit of the doubt and assume that it means it as a satire on the onslaught of politically naÔve rock and rollers who have gone on to record anti-Bush chants.
Senor Smoke, luckily, is catchy and fun enough that the lyrics don’t entirely sink the album. The Electric Six have a knack for incorporating the right “wrong” elements into their strange synth-pop/punk/metal/disco sound. Dick Valentine’s shrill vocals might be difficult to handle in some contexts, but it often works wonders in the parodic context of the songs. Take “Rock and Roll Evacuation”, where Valentine takes the chorus and pushes it way past 11, evoking the Sweet’s insane falsetto harmonies, somehow salvaging the song which seems like an excuse to use the word “evil” as many times as possible. At the other end of the album, the closer “Future Is the Future” starts with a galloping, impossibly upbeat Stock-Aitken-Waterman homage, before devolving into a Killers/Bravery parody, a clever move that links these “hip” bands with brainless ‘80s dance music. “Future Boys”‘s musical joke is that its “future” is dressed up in completely retro styling, such as the computerized, monotone Buggles-esque female vocals that sing the chorus. And the excellent rip-off of the White Stripes’ now immortal “Seven Army Nation” riff on “Dance-A-Thon 2005” is a splendid in-joke for listeners expecting the return of Jack White for a repeat of the splendor that was “Danger! High Voltage”. On a strictly musical level, Senor Smoke is a full success.
It’s just sad that the Electric Six seem intent on being the second coming of Tenacious D, forgetting the fact that Tenacious D are actually professional comedians who are working with a vision beyond making funny songs. I simply don’t fully trust any non-hip-hop album that features sketches, and Senor Smoke has two tracks labeled as such, and a few other tracks that could easily have been re-designated as well (“Taxi to Nowhere”). Take “Jimmy Carter”, which is a parody of the Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm” that makes fun of ex-presidents and the Backstreet Boys. Not only is the song dated on about three thousand different levels, it’s entirely unnecessary. It makes Weird Al Yankovic’s Crash Test Dummies riff, the career nadir parody “Headline News” (about John Wayne Bobbit and that one kid that went to Singapore that got caned in Singapore before you totally forgot about him), seem timeless and inspired. Plus, whose idea was it to cover “Radio Ga Ga” and trying to make it even more over-the-top and ridiculous than Queen’s original? How can you go over-the-top on Queen’s silliest single, the one which has a chorus of “Radio Ga Ga / Radio Goo Goo / Radio Blah Blah”? Valentine actually clears up some of the questions when he explains the album title, not only is Senor Smoke former Detroit Tigers pitcher Aurelio Lopez’s nickname, it is, in Valentine’s words, a reference “to the fact that we’re smoking a great deal of marijuana these days”.
Still, I admit it, I appreciate the Electric Six’s looseness. Senor Smoke is a fun album to listen to, even if it is disposable nonsense. Even though its chorus is “Welcome to Big Burger can I take your order”, a part of me wants to sing along with “Boy or Girl?”. Even though “Dance Epidemic” is one of two utterly generic mutant disco numbers (with guitar solos), it does kinda make me want to dance. There’s no “High Voltage” here, or even “Gay Bar”, but the Electric Six have at least made a sophomore album that deserves to exist, which, honestly, is way more than I expected from a band I thought was doomed to one-album wonder status. Next time, however, I recommend that the band lays down the bong until after it writes the lyrics.
// Notes from the Road
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