Electric Six Keeps Pace with the Saw Franchise


Five years ago, there was little to suggest the Electric Six would—or for that matter should—release a sophomore effort, let alone reach this, the five-album mark. After all, Fire, the Detroit sextet’s 2003 debut, flaunted its disposability, making jokey mush of the dance-punk, neo-garage, and mock-hair-metal sounds so popular at the time. Such novelty tunes as “Gay Bar” were amusing enough, what with their Jack Black “rawk” bravado and brazen political incorrectness, but after the chuckling subsided, it was apparent the group had said everything it was ever going to say. Even the band’s members seemed to realize this, and over the course of three increasingly ignored follow-up albums, musicians came and went like seasonal help. The lone constant has been frontman Dick Valentine, a straight-face joker who doesn’t need a steady lineup to propagate his dumbass songs. Despite the new cast of sidemen, Flashy might as well have been called Fire V—Valentine even titled the leadoff track “Gay Bar Part Two,” admitting his inability to write anything more memorable than his breakout single.

That failure isn’t for a lack of effort: Valentine’s new songs work much the way his old ones did, finding comic pomposity in their mix of new-wave synths and blunt classic-rock guitars. The only real difference is a shift in gimmicks, as this time out, Valentine has replaced slurping disco beats with a variety of boilerplate horn sounds. Trumpets give “Gay Bar Part Two” a mariachi feel, while the sax attack that closes “Formula 409” is straight from the Stooges’ Fun House. Sadly, no matter how brassy the music gets, it can’t upstage Valentine’s exaggerated rock-god bellow; his shtick demands he never break character, which is a shame, since several of his new songs hint at a yet-unexplored human side. “Transatlantic Flight,” for one, manages a poignant surprise ending, while the Hollywood tragedy “Face Cuts” updates Poison’s “Fallen Angel” for the plastic-surgery age. The world only needed one Electric Six album, but for a few understated moments, this one makes the case for a second.