Arriving in the U.S. a year after its U.K. release, Electric Six's second album, Señor Smoke, shows that it'll take more than having been without a record deal in their own country to derail them. After all, they've survived a name change and taken more than a few lineup shifts in stride. Through it all, they've displayed a very Detroit kind of scrappiness and sense of humor that is stronger than ever in their music (though it's hard to expect anything less from a band that names one of its B-sides "I Am Detroit"). The foundations of their sound still come from disco, synth pop, glam, and arena rock -- genres that had their last heydays several decades ago, which is oddly fitting for a band from a city often portrayed as having its best days in the past. Police sirens blare over Señor Smoke's first two tracks, and the electro-tinged "Devil Nights" pays homage to one of Detroit's most notorious "holidays" and the city's pioneering electronic music in one fell swoop. Dick Valentine is as charismatic and campy as ever, singing "live" as "lee-uhv" and "city" as "cit-ay," and selling lyrics like "be my dark angel/be my Capri Sun" and "I'm a man, not a disco ball!" Yet Señor Smoke doesn't just sound like Fire warmed-over. While it doesn't have a monster single like "Danger! High Voltage" or even "Gay Bar," overall Señor Smoke is a sharper, more focused album that somehow manages to be zany with a serious undercurrent. Electric Six find value in what is supposed to be trash and vice versa, taking aim at and sending up presidents, pop culture, conspicuous consumption, and media saturation. As on Fire, they make their points with heroic doses of tongue-in-cheek humor and sincere camp. On "Rock and Roll Evacuation," "Iraq" is rhymed with "rock" (as in "you don't know how to"), while "Bite Me" is as much about siphoning gas as it is about sex. "Jimmy Carter" is the album's power ballad, and the Electric Six equivalent of "Under the Bridge" (although this song is intentionally over-the-top); "Future Boys," meanwhile, rattles off a list of pod-person-like corporate lackeys to jerky new-new wave. Señor Smoke plays like a concept album, moving from darker, rock-based tracks to more playful, plastic synth pop like the brilliantly named closer, "The Future Is in the Future." Even the cover of Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" fits in well with the album's overall themes. Like Fire, Señor Smoke runs out of steam toward the end; for the first half of the album, it's hard to keep up with them, but by the second half, it's hard for them to keep it up. Nevertheless, this is Electric Six's strongest work to date, and the fans who have stuck with them through their trials and tribulations won't be disappointed.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares