The Electric Six has lived through a name change, loss of stateside labels (while enjoying ephemeral U.K. pop-star status), and nearly as many lineup shifts as Chinese Democracy-era Guns 'N Roses. Somehow, though, they've remained Detroit's premier (and ironic) party band, with more staying power than Andrew WK and by virtue of attention to actual songwriting a smarter and longer-running joke than, say, the Darkness.
Back when E6 was the Wildbunch and stalwarts of the much-lamented Gold Dollar rock dive, the band defined the good-time side of Detroit's garage rock scene. Now that garage has all but vanished, E6 remains, funny as hell and still relevant to Detroit's often musically jaded punters. Anyway, Electric Six never fit into that garage mold; its disco leanings and pop-culture parodies were far too purposely dumb and self-effacing.
And do lineup changes even matter? E6's verve rose and fell around singer-leader Dick Valentine. Not to discount the other contributions here (particularly guitarist Zach Shipps' production and co-writes) because musician virtuosity is needed to create the thrilling and disco-fied glam-via-Prince wallop the band packs around Valentine. But really (to paraphrase something Mark E. Smith said about his band the Fall), it could be Valentine and your granny on bongos and it's still E6.
Said verve is present on I Shall. It's everywhere. "Down At McDonellzzz" flips the tired bar-closing song to lights-out the Golden Arches. On "Rip It" we get a potion-motion-lotion-Nova Scotian rhyme scheme to match the promise in the song's title. Though one may wonder if Ween's covering Whitesnake on "When I Get to the Green Building," rest assured that every stylized whoop is pure Electric Sixness.
Just when the band might be going soft, ruminating on morning-after regrets, we get an earful on "Dirty Looks" "There's a man dressed up like an ancient bird and he's setting his guitar on fire!" Such moments cause wonder: Is Valentine is the best pop lyricist since Shawn Ryder?
But nearly every song here sounds like an attempt to re-create the immediacy of "Danger! High Voltage" (which hit No. 1 in Britain a few years back), but this is what the Electric Six does. It makes manic-punk-white-funk fist-pumpers, glam anthems for middle-evening Detroit-bar jukes and after-hours living-room parties.
Besides, who the hell can't relate to a line like, "I have some money for you here so reach into me and grab it/I have never understood why anyone likes Lenny Kravitz!"? Bingo!
Mike Ross writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].
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