Beggars XL, 2003
REVIEW BY: Julia Skochko
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/12/2008
There's a five-second section of "Improper Dancing" that says it all… that encapsulates everything that's come before and everything that follows. It's the grain of sand at the center of the delicious, slippery little oyster that is Fire.
The song's escalated (or degenerated) into a total dance-punk frenzy. It's a whirlwind of pleather and propulsion. The imaginary dance floor in your mind has gone berserk. Suddenly, someone seizes the mic.
Everyone catches their breath and stares at the stage.
Who's this guy? Why'd the band just slam on the brakes? And what's with that accent (think "BBC anchor has a few too many stouts and stages a karaoke tribute to Ronnie James Dio")?
He's Dick Valentine... dance commander, electric demon, master of ceremonies. He has descended from the Pantheon of Awesome to bless mortal men with rock (as well as relieve mortal women of their panties). The crowd is silent for one second... two seconds...
... and then it explodes. At least that's how you imagine it. In reality, you're shimmying around the kitchen in your socks, singing into a can of Pringles and grinning like an idiot.
It is a glorious idiocy indeed which fuels Fire. With some things, less is more. With other things (garlic, dirty jokes, lyrics like "yeah I invented the night / in my laboratory using lust and lies"), more is more. More than that is even better. And obscenely huge amounts become transcendental. Many people's first reaction to the album is incredulity: "Is... is this a joke?" Tough question. The album was conceived as one big, ironic smirk. However, Fire's dumbness is profound and protracted enough that it eventually morphs into a strange sort of brilliance.
The album doesn't have a "theme," per se, unless you count fire, dancing, girls and various combinations thereof. Each track is the equivalent of a fast food chain's "stunt" burger... hot, cheesy and loaded with guilty pleasures. There are disco falsettos and metal growls, synthesizers and shrieks, stupid lyrics and... well, really stupid lyrics. You wouldn't think thirteen of them in a row would work... then again, who would've thought the Baconator would be a hit? To adequately explain Fire's allure, I'll have to paraphrase Pauline Kael: songs are so rarely "Born To Run" that if we cannot appreciate "I'm The Bomb" ("I'm a man with conversation skills / and I'm a man with hundred dollar bills?"), we have very little reason to listen.
... except, of course, for the catchiness. It takes talent to pen songs that burrow into the listener like liver flukes. It's not exactly the same talent behind "Fugue In D Minor", but it's worthy of respect nonetheless. Dance-punk is a hybrid of two already-catchy genres; the results, if done well, are more addictive than freebasing Twinkies. It's a bit like an inverted version of glam rock. Style trumps substance, infectiousness beats innovation and iridescent eyeshadow is replaced by hyperinflated machismo. "Danger! High Voltage" (a massive club hit in Europe) is part Bee Gees, part buzz saw and guaranteed to lodge itself in your brain for weeks. It's what would've happened if Studio 54 had been flooded with laughing gas instead of buried in blow.
Fire's flaws are entirely subjective. Enjoying it requires cutting it some serious critical slack. You could criticize it for being vapid, ridiculous, far too self-amused... and you'd be totally correct. You could fault it for repetitiveness, and you'd once again have a valid complaint. It's not that the songs sound similar -- the lyrics may be idiotic, but the musicians aren't; they wrest an admirable level of variety from four chords and a Casiotone. It's that the pitch doesn't waver from track to track. Each song as as LOUD! and LUDICROUS! and INTENSE! as POSSIBLE! The metal-edged macho of "Nuclear War" would be more memorable if it didn't occur immediately after the surf-funk assault of "
This is an album for which criticism is irrelevant, however. To quote the Great Emancipator, "for those who like that sort of thing, I should think it is just about the sort of thing they would like." There are those who will dismiss Fire as a novelty as ephemeral and unsatisfying as Dippin' Dots. There are also those who will listen to the first thirty seconds of "Dance Commander" ("it would be awesome / if we could dance / it would be awesome / let's take a chance"), lunge for the nearest Pringles can and commence busting a move. I happen to be in the latter camp. Fire isn't marriage material, but it's an excellent bad boyfriend... even though you know better, it's fun and sleazy enough that you'll always return its calls.