Flashy

Electric Six

Metropolis, 2008

http://www.electricsix.com

REVIEW BY: Julia Skochko

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/06/2009

Like papyrus scrolls or the contents of Chinese take-out containers, Electric Six has grown harder to decipher with time.

It's kind of a shocker.  Their debut, Fire, was a musical Jäger bomb.  It was sleazy and sophomoric, but damn, did it go down smooth.  You didn't ponder Fire's songwriting.  You didn't question its motivations.  There was but one, and it was evident in every turgid, throbbing inch.  Fire was the product of a masculinity so sweatily aggressive that it simply had to be expressed via SONG! and DANCE!  It was almost like West Side Story, only with sexy ladies and exothermic reactions filling in for Sharks and Jets.

With Fire, the “Least Likely to Attain Artistic Complexity” title belonged to Electric Six.  It would've been perfectly respectable to wear that skewed joker's cap like a crown, to build a career on high-octane stupidity (The Bloodhound Gang is probably still financing their beer with royalties from “Fire Water Burn”).  It would've been interesting (if ill-advised) to shoot for artistic credibility.  Pleading with MTV's viewing audience to look past your novelty singles occasionally pays off.  Dick Valentine & Co. chose to kick it iconoclast-style and pursue both of these options.  Simultaneously.  Over their next four albums, they retained the deliciously dirty humor and macho posturing.  They also got -- I don't know quite how to say this -- good.

Most albums’ problem is what they lack.  Flashy's is what it doesn't.  Valentine mixes and mashes genres and moods with a finesse that would turn most DJs green.  The album swerves from funk to mariachi to metal, and it does it with style and a sardonic leer.  It's difficult to critique what you can't pin down, though.  Take “Watching Evil Empires Fall Apart.”  It's a vicious dictator's ballad to his special lady (“Back in the years before blood lost all its flavor / You slipped and fell, but you fell into my favor”).  It may be the mournful piano chords, it may be Valentine's skills, it may be sheer serendipity, but damned if the thing doesn't manage to be poignant and ridiculous at the same time.  Therein lies the bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Flashy-dox: is it a joke?  Is it legit?  What is it, how should I feel about it, and am I gonna feel guilty in the morning if I do?

Yes, it's more complicated than previous E6 albums.  But Flashy's still bales of fun.  It exceeds the USRDA for dance-punk extravaganzas; your booty is in no danger of remaining immobile.  “Formula 409” pairs funk's fire with metal's kerosene.  The resultant boom is classic E6... slithery guitars, frantically shrieking sax and an escalating barrage of coos and shouts.  Scrubbing one's grout has never felt so deliciously filthy.  “Dirty Ball” is true to its name.  The deep synths and throbbing bass merge into one irresistible, bouncy rhythm; you're liable to be humming the chorus for weeks (“Put your dirty love in a ball / And bounce it off of me!”).

Other tracks are insidiously catchy.  “Gay Bar Pt. 2” seems jokey and slight…then it embeds itself in your head like a .22 round.  Who knew that mariachi horns and conga drums would complement a grinding hard rock tarantella?  For that matter, who would've guessed Electric Six would pen a perfect seduction ballad?  “Your Heat is Rising” pairs woozy, swoony guitars with majestic crests of piano.  It's pure, undiluted sexy, although the lyrics (“Come lose your ooze upon my knee!”) may have you giggling too hard to seal the deal.  And the final cut, “Making Progress” is the best slice of synthpop this side of 1982.  It's a cheery swirl of electronic chirps and whistles.  There are handclaps, drum-smacks and flagrant Vocoder abuse.  The result is an airy, euphoric delight.  It'd make Marc Almond claw his eyes out with jealousy… that is, after he finished dancing.

Flashy is quite a bit darker than its sweet nothings, however.  Several tracks are more brooding and intense than anything the band's ever done.  “We Were Witchy Witchy White Wome” is prime E6 with, dare I say it, a hint of maturity -- at least as much maturity as a song about lesbian witches can accommodate. If you grafted a pair of big, swingin' testes onto poppy electronica, or a heart within hair metal's spandex-encased thoracic cavity, you still wouldn't quite have it.  Its quirky, silly-sweet narrative is echoed in “Lovers Beware,” a grim saga of interoffice l'amour.  Its jerky proto-emo rock is punctuated by shouted “hey!”s, each one reducing our doomed protagonists' cubicles to rubble.  “Transatlantic Flight” is a standout.  This tale of a doomed redeye is spooky and atmospheric.  The chorus is utter silliness (“In the event / of a water landing / You can use my body as a flotation device”).  But thanks to the stabbing synths and haunted coos, the mood remains one of escalating dread.

It's a pity there's no Billboard chart for “Contemporary Unclassifiable.”  Flashy's neither recognizable enough to peg with a genre nor obscure enough to peg with “genius.”  Its weird, thorny detours may alienate older fans.  Its hilariously absurd lyrics may scare off new ones.  Yeah,  it's severely weird.  It's also damned good, in ways you'd expect and many you wouldn't.  So what, objectively speaking, is wrong with the hard-to-describe?  Why try to classify the truly innovative…that which meets no existing classifications?  Flashy will make you laugh, roll your eyes, scratch your head and shake your thang.  Don't define it -- enjoy it.

Rating: B+

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© 2009 Julia Skochko and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Metropolis, and is used for informational purposes only.