Electric Six: Zodiac

Electric Six
Too Many Robots

If this party-rock thing ever peters out for Electric Six, Dick Valentine should give motivational seminars. Businesses, public schools, whoever can afford him. He’s got the booming voice for it, of course, and he knows how to deliver memorable catchphrases like, “The sun ain’t the real reason vampirrrres DIE!!!!”. (Not that he could use that one, per se; he’d adapt.) Picture it: A few hundred office drones crammed into a Hilton ballroom for the sole purpose of hearing Mr. Valentine pontificate about Living Your Vocation with Creativity and Purpose, rasping the ends of his words into curls like Captain Beefheart doing Tom Jones.

Valentine and band debuted auspiciously as the It Novelty Band of 2003 — “Danger! High Voltage” was the #11 single on the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, and the #4 song on the Charlie’s Angels 2 soundtrack. They should’ve gone downhill from there, but the band has improbably sauntered on, despite replacing its pseudonymed lineup almost completely. (Only guitarist Tait Nucleus? remains from that giddy time.) Since 2005, Electric Six have released one solid album every year, toured to consistently midsized rooms, worked minimal variations on their synth rock sound, and pretty much avoided the charts and critics’ polls. (On Pazz & Jop 2008, Flashy tied for the #659 album.) They may yet become the Nazareth of our day.

One big difference: Electric Six rarely record covers. The new album Zodiac tweaks the formula with a strutting rendition of the Spinners’ “Rubberband Man” that’s good fun, despite the fact that it sounds more like Poison’s “Unskinny Bop”. The 11 originals play by the rules — a set of catchy rockers, creatively arranged and played with gusto by the five instrumentalists, and sold with Valentine’s trademark forced aggression. And it wouldn’t be Les Six without one really bad song — this time out, a dire Doors-y cabaret called “Table and Chairs”. Somebody should’ve shown them the way to the next whiskey bar.

No matter what he’s singing, Valentine is better than nine of ten rock singers currently working. He’s got machismo, recognizable sound and phrasing, good pitch, and Lord knows he sticks to themes. Zodiac still features plenty of odes to partying and rocking, but adds some sober reflections on the semiotics of pleasure in late-modern capitalism. I refer, of course, to lead single “Jam It In the Hole”. Narrated by “good times” themselves, “Jam It in the Hole” is a tribute to youth, rock ‘n’ roll, dildos, free love, Courtney Love, and “the market value of our soul”. Valentine also offers trenchant critique in “It Ain’t Punk Rock” (“‘til the punk rockers say it’s punk rock!”). Two other songs, “American Cheese” and “I Am a Song!”, out-meta anything on Jamey Johnson’s latest opus. As an absurdist, Valentine’s equally at home evoking Beefheart (“That’s where her majesty dines on perpendicular lines!”) and Dr. Seuss (“In the writings of the druids / Lies a recipe for druid fluid / Sounds like a most refreshing drink to me!”).

The band sees Valentine’s evocations and raises him some direct quotes. Different songs lift the piano part from “Rock the Casbah” (“After Hours”), the sax part from “Baker Street” (“Doom and Gloom and Doom and Gloom”), the beat from “Pump It Up” (“Punk Rock”), and the gang vocals from a hundred P-Funk songs (“Clusterfuck”). There’s plenty more, and none of it has shit to do with anything else. If I understood Nietzsche better, I might call the effect “decadent”. But that would be OK, because Electric Six are in the decadence biz, and those goofy non sequiturs and aphorisms are what the audience pays to hear. You can tell these guys really love their day jobs.

Oh yeah, rumor has it the 12 songs on Zodiac correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac. I’ll let you figure out how.

RATING 7 / 10