What do sarcasm, disco, limitless sexual innuendo and an obsession with nuclear war have in common? Why, it’s the debut album by Electric Six, of course!
The humour at the heart of Electric Six might make a retrospective article about that record a light-hearted affair. Not this one. The success of Fire in the UK, a victory for the oddballs, would not happen on this scared, lost, increasingly conservative little island today.
In 2003 this was a very different place. A place where the creation of a mass market vegan sausage roll wouldn’t have been front page news. Where being a fascist was broadly frowned upon. Where a top-five video featuring a man dressed as a kinky Abraham Lincoln singing about same-sex social establishments was taken for it was. (That’s your warning for the video below.)
Fire was a number seven album in the UK. God bless you for that, Dick Valentine, you barmy sod. People like George Ezra now. George fucking Ezra. Don’t you dare tell me 2003 wasn’t a better time.
The Electric Six phenomenon in the UK began when Valentine and his band of batty bastards pitched up with the bonkers video for ‘Danger! High Voltage’, a sinister alt-disco anthem that caught the scene’s imagination simply because it was a rocky pop song in a style we’d never heard before.
Their first UK single earned Electric Six second spot in the charts, a a career commercial high, at least on these later forsaken shores. It was everywhere. A hit. A chart triumph for the twisted imagination we’ve collectively lost in the 15-plus intervening years. It’s amazing what you can do with a crotch-light.
But the song that really made Electric Six a household name was a fabulous piece of trolling, a rollicking, raunchy celebration of queer that somehow out-weirded the first single when it came to the video. ‘Gay Bar’ felt brave in 2003, but also frivolous and silly. If it came out – arf! – in 2019, Piers Morgan would be apoplectic, the daft twat.
Listening back, the two big-hitting singles from Fire aren’t just from a different era culturally. They’re of their time sonically, too. There’s just enough crunch to stand them on their own two feet, still, but otherwise these are songs that haven’t aged especially well.
Fire was massive in the album stakes as well as through its singles. Its strength across 13 songs earned it a decent critical reception and it’s the best album tracks that sound freshest today. Humour is an important characteristic but not the only one, and the less famous songs are the ones that bring the others to the fore.
Set aside the three singles and Fire reveals influences from rock, punk, funk, glam, disco and pretty much anywhere else you can name. The slower songs – ‘I’m The Bomb’ and ‘I Invented The Night’ in particular – are a showcase for Electric Six’s smoother side. It remains a good look.
But, unsurprisingly, it’s the more spiteful, spikier songs that have stood the test of time. ‘Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother)’ and ‘Electric Demons In Love’ stack the album at the top, while ‘Nuclear War (On The Dance Floor)’ serves as an effective mid-record palate cleanser.
Throw in the irresistible funky disco of ‘Improper Dancing’ and Fire becomes a quirky but compelling album. But it sounds its age, and, unfortunately, we don’t really live in an Electric Six world anymore. 13 albums and 16 years later, there’d be plenty of material to gobble through if we did.
Fire came out in 2003 on XL Recordings.