Friday, May 26, 2006

Langhoff Unpublished: Electric Six's Senor Smoke

Metropolis is the only label I get promos from on a regular basis, so I was excited to see this one come down the pike. A real album that people care about! Man, was I gonna write the heck out of it! And I think I did--at least I got off some good lines and I didn't say "Jack Black." So imagine my chagrin when I sent it to Chuck at the Voice without Googling first, and he replies that Mike Barthel's review of the damn import already ran last August! "Don't be a fool: use Google," is my message to all you aspiring freelancers! So then, desperate to beat all the other freelancers no doubt chomping at the bit while feeding at Metropolis's trough, I sent it off to the still no-go Matos at Seattle Weekly, who kindly replied that it was already assigned. Sure enough, the affable Anthony Miccio's review appeared before too long, furthering my envy if not my embarassment. Neither Chuck nor Matos still works those jobs. Now, I'm not saying it's because they didn't run this thing, but...

Electric Six
Señor Smoke

Dance rock is here to stay! How do I know? Because fully a third of the songs on Electric Six’s Señor Smoke use the words “dance” or “disco”! And their drummer, the “amusingly” named Percussion World, occasionally plays some syncopated hi-hat! Which is the universal signifier for “disco”! Seriously, I’ve heard Nonesuch recordings from distant corners of the world with disco syncopatin’ that’ll knock yer boots off!

Much more than disco, though, the Six aspire to the hope and the curse implicit in Loverboy’s Get Lucky album cover. A parody of the iconic cover shot, of fingers crossed behind a red leather butt, appeared in Charlie’s Angels II, whose soundtrack featured the Six’s first hit, “Danger! High Voltage,” thus establishing the kitschy trash-rock connection. The fingers are crossed, of course, in the hope of “getting lucky,” and we all understand what that means to the leather-clad. Leather’s uncomfortable! You wanna take it off!

But you also cross your fingers when you lie--well, I do--and that coy insincerity mixed with horniness is all over the Six’s music. The mixture usually comes out sounding like forced aggression to which the band realizes they have no real claim. The same mix is all over Loverboy’s muisic, too--don’t think they didn’t understand the double meaning of their album cover, or that their lyric “When I say jump/ You better jump!/ When I say walk/ Well, you better get ready to say goodbye!” wouldn’t fit seamlessly into les Six’s repertoire. All it would need is Dick Valentine rasping the ends of the words into curls like Captain Beefheart doing Tom Jones, and ironi-hipsters everywhere would laugh their leather asses off.

Truth is, Valentine’s better than nine of ten rock singers today. He’s got attitude, recognizable sound and phrasing, good pitch, and Lord knows he sticks to themes. Throughout Señor Smoke, he’s able to use the depth of his tone and his overwrought vibrato to marshal the sound of his band into a legitimately rockin’ force. Even on Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga,” the combo of distorted guitars, decent drumming, synth squelches and the Valentinian voice spirals into a dark potency. But of course, the song still uses the word “ga ga.” If former label Warner indeed forced them to cover it, that’s plenty worse than all the shit they did to Wilco.

So are there any good songs, you ask? Sure! Churning arena rockers with solid backbeats and fun rhymes? See “Bite Me” and “Rock and Roll Evacuation.” Synthy sci-fi rockers that the Epoxies should cover? Sure, “Future Boys” and “Vibrator.” Pretty decent stabs at, yes, disco rock, to which I’ve invented some lovely dances? Yep, “Devil Nights” and “Dance Epidemic.” A song that sounds like fake Talking Heads Africana? Well, “Future Is In the Future,” if you must. And if you were looking for a song that sounds like the guy from Crash Test Dummies singing Bush’s “Glycerine” with lyrics that name presidents and cite the Backstreet Boys and Don DeLillo, there’s one of those too. Though it doesn’t work.