American Culture

TunesDay: The divine stupidity of Dick Valentine

The serious bands get all the respect. All the critical acclaim. All the love from all the right people. Which is probably as it should be.

But for every Beatles there’s at least one or two Rolling Stones, bands that aren’t terribly respectable and that clearly aren’t worried about cultivating an intellectual legacy. Sometimes you even get a little Beatles and a little Stones in the same band. In an interview years ago with the members of YNOT?! I raised the question of lyrical subject matter. Front man Paul Lewis handled all the words, and he brought a serious social consciousness to the process. But drummer Steve Miller said “I don’t know why we can’t just do songs about getting drunk and getting laid.”

So there you have it. Girls just want to have fun, and the same is true for some of the boys, too. I’m not sure there’s a band alive today that’s having more fun than Electric Six, the Detroit-based rock/punk/electropop/metal/disco outfit (hey, listen to them and tell me I’m wrong) that seems intent on raising rock & roll braindeath to an art form. An AMG review neatly summed up their 2006 release, the sublimely ridiculous Switzerland, saying it was “brought to you by the words ‘fire,’ ‘night,’ ‘party,’ and ‘city’,” and that probably won’t be the last time the band will provide us with a soundtrack for partying all night in cities on fire, either.

E6’s 2007 effort, I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me from Being the Master, isn’t terribly cerebral, either. The lead track encourages us not only to “put a little mustard on it,” but also to “put a little mustard on that mustard.” Then there’s this, from “Rip It!”:

Put me in motion
Drink the potion
Use the lotion
Drain the ocean
Cause commotion
Fake devotion
Entertain a notion
Be Nova Scotian

Yeah, I don’t know, either, but it sure it catchy.

I think what makes Electric Six work so wonderfully is that the stupidity belies a real cleverness, both in lyrics and music. Make no mistake, these guys write great tunes and they perform them really well. Listen closely and it’s evident that they know their way around the rock canon (it’s just about impossible for me to hear “Down at McDonnelzzz” without flashing on Wings’ “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five,” for instance). Their deadpan style helps, too. Unlike a lot of bands out there * cough * Barenaked Ladies * cough * they feel no need to wink at you every 30 seconds to make sure you’re paying attention to the fact that they’re more clever than you are. They just stand and deliver, as if they’re actually serious. Very funny stuff.

So today TunesDay honors the fine art of brain-pickled fun by naming Electric Six our Band of the Week. Since I always try and teach my students to show, don’t tell, let’s show you some of Electric Six’s more wonderful moments. We’ll start with the video that introduced me to the band. “Fire in the disco, fire in the Taco Bell.” Ummmkay….

Then there’s “I Buy the Drugs,” one of the high spots off of Switzerland. You know, the band just hangin’ at the LSD house….

Now, I have no idea what’s going on in this video, but I can’t listen to the song without shooting soda out of my nose. Which is a little weird, since I don’t drink soda anymore.

As disturbing as it sounds, I can’t completely rule out the possibility that there’s some social commentary going on here.

Let’s see, who can we mess with now? Ah, how about Freddie Mercury?

And finally, let’s take a trip to a gay bar! And just a warning, this is about six different kinds of wrong.

If you’d like to explore further, I can’t recommend Switzerland highly enough. If you’ve had quite enough, I can understand that, too.

8 replies »

  1. I do not think I would press that little rectangle with the ‘go’ arrow if it were anyone else posting these! Often there are gems to be found…so I do.

    No 1 was most enjoyable…but probably for all the wrong reasons.
    No 4 was great.
    Mr Freddy was unavailable.

  2. Hunh – I’m having no problems with the Freddie vid. This happens from time to time for reasons I don’t really understand. Maybe try flushing your cache and then hitting play?

  3. “We’re sorry this video is no longer available.”

    Can you post the link please?

  4. Fucking genius. Gay Bar takes the cake!

    These guys are certainly hitting the walls and workin the middle.