It’s unbelievable to think that ‘Turquoise’ is Electric Six’s nineteenth studio album [or twentieth, if you count the ‘Streets of Gold’ covers collection, which the band don’t seem to, since it wasn’t even mentioned at the gigs played in the month of release, and nothing played from it], but Dick Valentine and his revolving cast of disco-rock oddballs have been cranking out albums year after year. Not that the record buying public or the press have always noticed. What’s more, the bulk of ‘Turquoise’ is great. It isn’t the sound of a veteran band phoning in their musical spoils. It isn’t hacked out product from a band all too readily dismissed as a cheap novelty. Yes, it’s trashy, but always in the best possible way.
As any long term fan would hope, its fourteen tracks hop joyously between genres, and often sound like bits of an Electric Six past, whilst keeping a keen eye on the present to ensure the material retains a cool energy, whilst its geeky nature seems keen to keep everything resolutely uncool. In other words, it’s unmistakably Electric Six. …And their classic sound emerges just a few bars into ‘Take Me To The Sugar’, when a parping keyboard sound joins a mid-tempo groove that straddles synth pop and disco vibes, immediately calling back to the band’s formative years. The tune is melodic, but isn’t necessarily the band’s best. On first listen, the tempo feels a little slow, but further listens slowly uncover a decent tune where funky undertones join the Electric Six quirkiness, and Dick Valentine’s affected croon is in full flow, there’s just enough here to win over fans and casual listeners alike. Best of all, though, are the falsetto backing vocals linking everything; they might seem a little too frivolous, but they definitely stoke up the retro vibe in a way that’s pivotal to making the track work. By the time the chorus presents itself one final time and the guitars finally increase in volume, it sounds like an Electric Six tune you’ve always known. ‘Turquoise’ definitely has bigger and better thrills, but in terms of easing in everyone gently, it’s a strong enough opener.
Jumping to the other end of the musical scale almost immediately, ‘Dr. K’ hits the listener with a punk fuelled number where Johnny Na$hinal’s guitar buzzes incessantly and the drums crash with intent. In a high octane three minute blast, we get Electric Six thrashing away at full pelt, in a place where the fuzzy guitars are underscored with bright synths, and a punchy bass links everything with a solid sound. Despite the noise, it’s still Dick dominating and, here, his barking vocals are a perfect match for the tune It mightn’t seem as catchy as some Electric Six fare, but the repeated refrain of “let’s party” seems set to become a fan favourite. Fifties rock ‘n’ roll is the order of the day on ‘Born To Be Ridiculed’ with chopping acoustic guitars beavering away against a shuffling drum part and stabbed piano lines. Musically, everything is really tight, and the band sound like they’re having fun. Adopting another really heavy croon, Valentine spits the lyrics with intent between the repetition of the title used as a hook, but it’s when he rises to full wail that the number really finds its feet. If you’ve followed Electric Six since the beginning and are happy to accept that everything isn’t about bloody ‘Gay Bar’ and ‘Danger! High Voltage!”, or music that necessarily fits squarely into a garage rock and disco remit, chances are, you’ll enjoy this.
Taking that retro sound even deeper, the choppy ‘Window of Time’ explores B-Movie friendly musical textures, with Na$hinal happily unleashing his inner Link Wray and using that to drive a tune that sounds like a mix of ‘Munsters’ theme and surf rock soundtrack. As you’d expect, it works just as well as the rock ‘n’ roll pastiche of ‘…Ridiculed’. With Valentine giving the vocal a really overwrought theatrical angle whilst delivering lyrics regarding the whole mess of 2020 and a world where “your life is a movie with all the best scenes on the cutting room floor”, it has an almost satirical angle that suits the album brilliantly. ‘Hot Numbers On The Telephone’, meanwhile, drops back to a mid tempo groove. Its strong echoes of early Electric Six material from ‘Switzerland’ – and longer ago – should make it an instant hit with fans. That’s not to say an over-familiar sound is delivered in a safe or lazy way. The band hammer through a great riff with a knowing wink and sound clearly enthused, knowing a waiting audience will likely find a new favourite tune. You’ll also find a really familiar disco heart pumping the heart of the typically frivolous ‘Staten Island Ass Squad’, a number where bassist Rob Lower constantly beavers with a busy melody, over which a buzzing guitar sound and mechanised drums lend a tougher edge. It’s here the band’s disco-rock fusion is at its most direct, and even though it instinctively feels like other past sermons from the Electric Six book of musical messages, it’s easy to imagine the audience’s desire to get up and feel as enthusiastic as ever. Beyond the music, Valentine’s mix of strange croon and shameless yelp is in great shape as he barks out the chorus hook with glee, whilst a more melodic backing vocal brings an extra pop flair.
In an unexpected twist, the guitar-heavy ‘Skyrocketing’ at first sounds like an Electric Six tribute to The Runaways’ ‘Cherry Bomb’ before twisting into something a little more 80s with fiery lead guitar flourishes. Musically, it’s a little stodgy and maybe lacking some of the typical Six buoyancy, but the chunkier riffs sound like they’ll sound great in the live setting. What it lacks musically – in relation to the best bits of ‘Turquoise’, at least – it makes up for with a genuine spirit. Valentine delivers one of his most affected vocals as he curls his distinctive tone around mentions of “the carnival barker who’ll meet you in hell” and the lady “who cut off her nose to spite her face”, whilst a massive gang vocal is on hand to beef a great hook at the climax. As if to advertise the fact that ‘Turquoise’ aims to be one of the most varied Electric Six albums to date, ‘Units of Time’ presents something that’s much closer to 70s country rock than the band’s typical fare. It’s interesting how naturally the band – and Na$hinal, especially – appear to adapt to something so un-Electric Six. His guitar tones are perfect for the job in hand crying against a stately rhythm, and Valentine too, sounds particularly at home with the style. The carnival barker makes a return appearance in his lyric, and the fascination with time might well be another reference to the bizarre stretched reality in which the album was written. Electric Six proudly stated they’d deliver an album a year, the pandemic finally broke the cycle but, in so many ways, that extended period has allowed the band to dig deeper into their collective influences and talents, making ‘Turquoise’ a much better record than a twelve month creative burst might’ve delivered.
The slower title track shows off a slightly more sophisticated Electric Six. By fusing a funky pop groove beneath a garage rock guitar and applying a stately vocal, it sort of sounds like three core elements of the band’s stock sound jostling against each other, but at the same time, it’s very strong. From the outset, a very 90s groove from the drums sets up a great rhythm, which Johnny overlays with a clean and almost jazzy tone in places, before rising up with a solo that’s almost of a 70s persuasion, whilst bassist Rob Lower latches onto a fine rhythm. In terms of radio friendly qualities, it’s equal to the lead single ‘Take Me To The Sugar’, but its lyrical content would make it a no-go on a lot of mainstream stations. On top of all of that, you want something that’ll annoy? Look no further than the strange and ugly ‘Five Clowns’ where Valentine yelps incessantly against an ugly garage rock number drenched in synth noises. There’s a decent guitar riff desperately trying to hold the chaos together, and it shows a band brimming with self-belief, but it’s rather hard work. Luckily, the album’s final track, ‘The Wheel Finds A Way’ ends everything on a massively high note when the band’s love of synth based disco sounds takes full control, throwing the listener into something that sounds like a distant cousin of ‘Synthesizer’ where big beats drive a huge droning sound whilst drummer Dr. J, augmented by various programmed elements, pushes forth with a shameless disco rhythms. Imploring everyone to “become one with the Quasar”, this is Electric Six’s futurist disco at its tightest. Even if it sounds like a few tunes you’ve heard before – and in some ways, it does – you’ll certainly love it.
For those who’ve never strayed, ‘Turquoise’ will thrill. For those who never made it much past ‘Senor Smoke’, it could confound as much as entertain. What is clear, though, is that whether he’s playing within an obvious comfort zone or taking unexpected musical curve balls, Valentine still sounds a man having a great time, living his best life, and thoroughly believing in the Electric Six cause. It’s a sharp and punchy record that’s familiar yet a truckload of fun. Whether you’re a rabid fan or casual admirer, it’s time to get back in that groove zone and choose Electric Six. You’ll be glad you did.