Wednesday, 13 January 2010
Posted by Kirsten Irving
Or, "Will you slap me with your bitch's glove?"
I want to talk about Electric Six, you see. I was assured that this journal had mutated from purely Fuselit, craft and poetry-related things to more of a mountain from which we are given carte blanche to yodel about things that interest us in a broader sense. And Electric Six interest me.
Unlike nigh-on every review of the band's work since 2002, I don't want to linger on the Song-That-Dare-Not-Speak-Its-Name. Instead, I want to talk about lyrics, and take as my text a cluster of tracks from the supremely titled album I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me from Being the Master.
The genius of Electric Six is partly in their knack for catchy tunes - it's almost ludicrous that at least as many people as listen to Scissor Sisters aren't putting on E6 lps on a daily basis, then immediately springing up and dancing till their feet bleed - but it's the lyrics that nail me. See, ideally, I like my music to be either touching and honest or big and fun and camp. I like Fox In The Snow and I like Party Hard.
Electric Six manage both. You'd assume the big, camp side from That Song, and indeed, songs on I Shall Exterminate... grab you with openers like "She was the queen of an evil galaxy" and "angels and demons holding hands and whistling dixie", barked without apology by the magnificently weird cad-a-like Dick Valentine. Totally shallow, throwaway stuff, fun for a short spell and then ultimately meaningless...right?
Carry on listening. Suddenly the angels and demons give way to a sort of weary Americana, as Valentine sings about waiting "in longer lines than the Russians ever did." Suddenly the comedy shagathons become hopeless relationships in which the singer is not so much a cartoonish lothario as a maltreated boyfriend (see Kukuxumushu, from which the title of this post is also taken) staring confusedly at a complete mess of a romance. The comic, yet legally wise misspelling in Down At McDonnelzzz, and the daft, infectious rap chorus about being "down with Ronnell McDonell (sic)" frame a pretty miserable scenario - a lone fast food joint worker getting ready for closing time ("the gift to the night shift"), before being jumped by a gang and forced to keep the joint open just so they have somewhere to hang out. It's a fist in the air for the blue-collared and bullied. And so what if Dick Valentine is a slightly ropey centaur in the video? Some things you don't question - you just enjoy.
Then there's the paranoia of Broken Machine, and one simple image - your girlfriend's robot (of course) slowly observing, mimicking and adapting to your behaviour in order to ultimately outthink and replace you. The arrangement of the song is both cute (blippy synthesisers and robotic sounds) and pretty sinister, softly creeping along behind lines like "It wants to know everything that turns me on./And what turns me on is you/so now that's what turns it on too." The kick-in of the chorus, in which guitars roar and the tormented boyfriend wails "It should be thrown away!" before conceding that "Broken Machine is here to stay" is pretty damned passionate for a song about a robot. While I'm never going to say the lyrics to this song can stand as poetry on their own, it's a great metaphor for fear, inadequacy and the threat of losing something you care about.
And that's what I love about Electric Six. Husky, wry concerns over politics ("Every problem can be solved by burning books") and resigned admissions, such as "I'm just a fuck solution/until the world ends" are invested with exactly the same gravity and thrust as the maddening satire of being "stuck in corner listening to some guy TALK about his screenplay" and the spat-out disgust of "Fabulous people/making all their money from the dirty little people". And of course, the million-dollar questions: "Did I make a mistake/when I sang this song?/Were my vox too sexy?/Were my vox too strong?"
There's no snobbery. It's what pop should be - unafraid to muck about with tone, silly and serious all at once, do press-ups on stage, criticise anybody, act utterly inappropriately in order to honestly discuss loss and pain. In one breath we get mutiny and nuclear war, in the next, Satan's fictional airline.
A lot more than just flashing crotches and Abraham Lincoln in a rubber thong, then. That said, Electric Six do sometimes just purely indulge the Andrew WK in all of us, and you know what? That's OK too. I'll leave you with these lines, from the song Lenny Kravitz:
"And girl, what do you say?
You can dress me up like JFK,
hide in the grassy knoll
and blow me away!"
Electric Six Official Site
My favourite Dick Valentine group on fb