Imagine you’re a major record label executive, and you catch wind of the possibility of signing a band that had three singles off its debut inImagine you’re a major record label executive, and you catch wind of the possibility of signing a band that had three singles off its debut in the charts. Said band had a large-scale exodus of members, but the singer, who also happens to be the brain behind the song-writing process, is still available. The conclusion is natural – get a hold of them and try to wrangle some more of those singles out of them. The problems set in when all parties involved realise that the hits came together organically, and the new process isn’t really working. A forced fluke of a record flops out onto store shelves, nothing blows up on the radio, and the band gets dropped. This is exactly what happened to Electric Six after Fire, as Warner stepped in and tried to get a new “Gay Bar”. Whilst this made the bulk of Señor Smoke range from uneasy (“Vibrator”) to downright unlistenable (“Future Boys”), there were moments where the newly assembled band seemed to reach for heights greater than implied by the record (“Future Is in the Future”). Once Electric Six went independent again, those specks of potential got to blossom into an unlikely half-decade golden age where the band could seemingly do no wrong, their innate catchiness flirting with all sorts of musical influences.
Switzerland is the beginning of said golden age. As such, the band is closest to its roots, and there’s no left-field instrumentation, extended outros from hell or Beefheartian insanity. Instead, we are offered a set of stupidly catchy songs largely rooted in rock with electronic leanings, but done the way the band wants. The guitars are a bit janglier than previously, some subtle stylistic jumps are present, and the man behind the disco ball gets to emerge in full glory and make the songs a bit more invested than dancing or pop culture references. “The Band in Hell” establishes both of those things early on, with a glinting tremolo verse being supplanted by a mournful, apologetic chorus. The songs on here are some of the closest to making sense the band has ever penned, but let’s not forget that Dick Valentine is the sort of lyricist who can cram the completely out of context line “And have you ever seen The Boys from Brazil?” into an otherwise relatively straight-faced song if he needs a rhyme. As such, the opener still has some semblance of tongue in cheek and the hell band is revealed to contain Hitler and the devil.
The rest of the record maintains this trend, offering an absurd blend of partying, roller skaters, shooting to kill, donkeys and policemen. By the time the dying gasp of the album rolls out a description of a chocolate pope, it doesn’t even elicit a slight eyebrow twitch. The immediate standout is “I Buy the Drugs”, in which a wonderfully incohesive tale of purchasing and selling drugs (and being supported by your woman, and driving, and also dogs) is carried on the back of a delightful chromatic verse and dead-on four-chord chorus. The darker edge hinted at by the opener is still present, with the culmination being the vague and understated “There’s Something Very Wrong With Us, So Let’s Go Out Tonight”. Most tracks sit somewhere in the middle, with the darkness often being relegated to thinly veiled social commentary (the rolling stomp of “Mr. Woman”), low-key reminiscing (“Ping Flamingos” in all its minimal country glory) or quick pangs woven directly into the absurd (the moon man and turkeys in “Pulling the Plug on the Party”). Crucially, all this is supplanted by the highest average track quality on an Electric Six album to date. The only song to dip into filler territory is “I Wish This Song Was Louder”, but a hilariously relaxed synth melody shows up midway through and saves the day. The backdrop varies, with some of the ground covered being hair metal (“Night Vision”), throbbing dotted electronic bass (“Infected Girls”) and a piano miniature (“Chocolate Pope”).
I actually wonder what the major record label executives would have thought had they heard Switzerland. In a way, it accomplishes what they wanted the band to do – there are a lot of organically catchy tracks, with “I Buy the Drugs” joining “Gay Bar” in the band’s concert staple echelon. It seems more likely that this stems from a lack of outside interference than Dick Valentine crumbling under prior pressure, so the band’s career might have gone considerably differently than it turned out if the label wasn’t so ham-fisted with its hit acquisition methods. One way or the other, what’s done is done, and the prior mishaps might have helped sculpt the dark edge present throughout, which in turns makes this a stronger and more engaging record. Like a beautiful phoenix rising out of the ashes of commercial failure, Electric Six were reborn as a ridiculously consistent independent band.… Expand