When the Electric Six first appeared in 2003, they were hailed as front-runners for the title of Most Ridiculous Band of the New Millenium. After all, they had a hit song called “Danger! High Voltage!”, which not only exclaimed that there was going to be “fire in the TacoBell!”, but also brought in a crazed-sounding Jack White as a duet partner. Their debut album, Fire, was disco-dance-punk for people who hated disco-dance-punk. A lot of the group’s energy came from the maniacal vocal contributions of singer Dick Valentine, who could sing “You must’ve been the dance commander/ Giving out the order for fun” with total conviction. “Dance Commander” and “Gay Bar” became minor hits in their own right, but the group was soon overshadowed by a band who rivaled them in terms of ridiculousness: the spandex-sporting UK imports, the Darkness. They believed in a thing called love, and the world soon let the Darkness into their playlists and wallets. Suddenly, a disco-rock fire-loving dance-group didn’t seem like that ridiculous of a concept anymore.
Yet this didn’t deter the E6. They kept on churning out instant-party albums while their fun-loving counterparts either broke up (The Darkness) or commercially imploded (Andrew W.K.). Even those fans who got to hear the Electric Six’s 2006 effort Switzerland got to hear a striking new facet of the band’s sound: maturity. Not a lot of it, admittedly, but it was a long-pending new concept that began slowly cropping up in their sound. Of course, for those who are thinking that I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master — the band’s fourth album — will be a revealing collection of personal intimate songs, well, just look at the original 1921 George Grosz image where the album gets its title from. Maturity indeed.
Master opens with “It’s Showtime!”, where slithery basslines mesh with hard-rock guitars and… an oboe? Yes, while Dick Valentine screams “put a little mustard on that mustard!”, a sprightly oboe dances around the distorted six-strings that so decorate this knockout of an opener. This isn’t the only sonic surprise that awaits. Horn sections mix with dance-floor keyboards on the drunk-at-McDonalds anthem “Down at McDonnelzzz”. Female vocals pop up on the feel-good “Kukuxumushu”, which contains the great line “I’m not the revolution / I’m just your boyfriend / A fuck solution / Until the world ends”. And, in perhaps the biggest left turn of the band’s entire career, closer “Dirty Looks” sounds exactly like a B-side from a Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips. Whether it’s an homage, parody, or happy accident is unclear. All we know is that the Electric Six have yet to run out of ideas.
With that in mind, however, the Six have yet to overcome the same problem that has dogged every single album they’ve put out: they just wind up retreading a lot of the same musical territory again and again. “Feed My Fuckin’ Habit” sounds like a sub-par remake of Lordi’s “Hard Rock Hallelujah”. “Lucifer Airlines” could work if viewed as a loose Maroon 5 parody (though even that’s a stretch) and the hooks on “Lenny Kravtiz” are a lot less-catchy then the band actually thinks they are (even if it does give Lenny Kravitz a long-overdue dissing). For every truly great Electric Six song that appears, there’s a least two sub-par or painfully average ones that follow behind.
The Electric Six are a joke-rock band of immense talent, and because of their search for new sounds (and bizarre lyrical topics), they have stayed a lot longer than any joke-rock act should. Their longevity is somewhat due in part to the fact that the E6 almost always acknowledge their influences. A prime example: don’t listen to “Sexy Trash” until you’ve heard Charles Manson’s original song “Garbage Dump” first. Then you will understand why that track is so damn funny. The group may never live down “Danger! High Voltage!”, but as long as they keep turning out great tracks like “It’s Showtime!” and “Broken Machine”, then the Electric Six never need to worry about being labeled a one-hit wonder. Years later, the Electric Six are back where they started: frontrunners to the title of Most Ridiculous Band of the New Millenium. This time, they just might wind up taking it.