here's a storied history of one-hit wonders that were actually both better and more interesting than their hit. While the goony ebullience of “Danger! High Voltage” is undeniable even now, make no mistake: Dick Valentine and his Electric Six fit neatly into that lineage. They (or more accurately he) wield schlock and camp, sure, but at least on Switzerland they have other things on their mind that what they’ll put in you at the gay bar.
Not in a tedious way, mind you. Dick Valentine is one of the few rock frontmen currently working that knows how to craft an entertaining persona without having said persona overwhelm the music. This is a man who sings the word “devil” with sufficient relish that you wish it would happen more than twice on the album. A man who manages to redeem the brief album-ending doggerel “Chocolate Pope” by the way he sings the words “save her.” A man who looks like a bank manager from Hell in the liner notes merely by wearing a nice suit, carrying a bulky cell phone, and exuding limitless contempt for humanity.
Switzerland is about confused, nebbishy Middle Americans and the people who take advantage of them; about cultural cross-pollination and how that winds up being simultaneously exciting and a little tacky; about people so engrossed in the party that they fail to notice how miserable they are. They work in imagery and evocation rather than stories and characters. It’s Pulp’s This Is Hardcore backed by a denatured blend of cock rock and synth pop, tighter and hookier than that classic but also less ingratiating. It’s massive and bold and American. It is precisely the record that a certain portion of North America deserves right now, and as a result it will probably cement the band’s status as a cult act.
Switzerland doesn’t quite have a “Jimmy Carter,” but it does have the sleekly gleaming “Night Vision” and the grinning-so-hard-it-hurts “I Buy the Drugs.” Their grasp of high ridiculousness is unparalleled; only Valentine and this band could get away with something like the innuendo-laden “Slices of You” and have it actually work, to say nothing of the country-rockin’ “Pink Flamingos.” Surprisingly enough even the more smoldering moments work well, particularly the statement of intent “There's Something Very Wrong with Us So Let's Go Out Tonight.” Only let’s not assume that Electric Six are being serious enough to have an intent; like all court jesters they make their points through a willful disregard of sense and rationality.
And for that they will get eaten alive, especially in the indie rock world that they’re forced to sort-of move in. For most of rock's history it's been unpopular to have an absurd sense of humor, to be aggressive about not taking anything seriously, to make music that sneaks in whatever it’s trying to say around the entertaining bits rather than vice versa. You might find the band’s schtick annoying, but they get slammed regularly just for having a schtick in the first place; if that’s a fault then we have a lot of people to start lining up against the wall.
Electric Six make junk music for junk times, and they’d be nigh-unbearable if they weren’t so much fun. As it is they’re the equivalent of the recent, unheralded, and wonderfully over-the-top action movie Crank: both hearken back to times when trash—B-movies, radio fodder—was made to a high standard of quality, and almost accidentally wound up being more interesting than the art we were supposed to be paying attention to.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-11-17