“Rock and Roll Evacuation,” which opens Electric Six‘s new album, climaxes thusly: “Mr. President, make a little money sending people you don’t know to Iraq/Mr. President, I don’t like you—YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO ROCK.” A curious feint, that first line, given that E6’s best-known bon mot
is “fire in the Taco Bell.” So it induces anxiety: “No, not political commentary!” But like a soft-loud shift, the resolution redeems your faith in such an earth-shattering way that it induces an involuntary
emotional release. Those 12 seconds are the best political music ever made, because they acknowledge the genre’s limitations: In rock, we condemn people for not rocking, and indeed, the president does not rock, which would be a shallow criticism
if it weren’t so close to certain anti-Bush nincompooperies—”He goes to bed early!” Except funnier, avoiding the self-seriousness that, in lesser hands, makes politics sound like physical therapy.
Problem is, the other 204 seconds of the track? Eh. I mean, they’re fine, but not the best anything. And this flows directly from the new E6 methodology. Whereas the songs on their debut,
Fire, took a few bits and repeated them in different configurations (see the chorus of “Gay Bar“: “I want to take you to a gay bar [X3], gay bar [X3]”) arriving at a disco-blues tangentially related to Andrew W.K.‘s happy hardcore hair-metal,
Señor Smoke (currently without a U.S. release date) is much more traditionally pop, each song sporting a full complement of lyrics and progressively evolving arrangements whose weirdness is more contextual than absolute. So, half the time, we get songs of ambiguous quality, with more filler lines than killer ones, a big change from
Fire‘s all-or-nothing approach. These more middling tracks musically resemble
Fire‘s tighter, heavier take on dance-punk, a sound E6 themselves seem tired of, but even such lesser specimens represent a productive maturation.
But when everything comes together, the results are massively more rewarding than anything on
Fire, and evidence, oddly enough, a sonic shift toward mid-‘ 90s modern rock radio. Best example is the unabashed masterpiece “Jimmy Carter,” a musical cousin of that Crash Test Dummies hit, but with lyrics about presidents, apocalypse, and the Backstreet Boys. It’s a total rush, against all odds (no real drums and a Guitar Center–y fingerpick progression), but only repeated listens reveal its place as thesis: Pop presents our world through consumption and recombination, revealing connections in the white noise, and Electric Six’s genius lies in their unreserved embrace and the far reach of their net.