By Phillip Mottaz
Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included My Morning Jacket's "Evil Urges", Guns N' Roses' "Mama Kin" and Beethoven's "Pathetique."
Comedy is hard because everyone is an expert at what makes them laugh. If people laugh at something, then it's funny and there's no use arguing. Musical comedy is three times to the max hard because artists not only have to get people to laugh at the joke, but they also can't annoy them with the song. "Not annoying" is the basic level one must achieve for musical comedy -- write a song to hang your jokes on, and don't let the music get in the way. Master this, and you only need 20 more minutes for your showcase at U.C.B. But even though I'm a champion of comedy, and think it should receive more respect and believe that the order of Best Comedy then Best Drama awards at the Golden Globes is elitist at best, music actually trumps comedy. Funny lyrics on a crappy song only result in a crappy song. Funny lyrics on a good song give you a good song. Funny lyrics on a great song give you a great song. And if you just happen to create a song that not only includes every element you love about loud rawk (fat guitars, disco beats, screams, etc), but you also do these comedic elements better than they've ever been done, then you've created "Improper Dancing," one of the greatest "comedy" songs ever, which makes it one of the greatest songs ever conceived.
When the Onion's A.V. Club made their list of the best music of 2003, they noted that Fire -- the debut album from Electric Six -- might not have been the best album of the year, but it was certainly the most awesome. Their distinction demonstrates importance in the fact that being a great rock 'n' roll band has almost nothing to do with quality work and nearly everything to do with attitude, and the affect that attitude had on me was monumental. Like Blazing Saddles before it, Fire rose below intellectualism, and as I've played and played "Improper Dancing" this week, I've discovered its power to cloud my brain rather than simply ensnare it.
Each week I usually write this column to the song, playing it in the background and letting it further define my world. "Improper Dancing" makes this technique an impossibility. I have to play it, rock out to it, stop it and then write. "Dancing" keeps distracting me, entrancing me and pulling me away from cognitive thought. My ears cannot get large enough for the sound. There's so much to be excited about within this song that I can't focus on one thing at a time. I debate with myself about what the best part of the song is, going back and forth between the "Stop... Continue!" bit at the end and the remounted-outro just before it (right now, I'm leaning toward the remounted-outro, almost solely based on the rule of threes: there are two choruses before it where the following bit is return of that brittle disco guitar. The third time we finish a chorus, we stay with the big fat sound of exploding guitars. This is the head-bangingest moment of the song). Greater than the sum of its parts as well as the parts of every style that influenced it, "Improper Dancing" is anti-intellectual in that it shuts down human brains to their lowest operative functions, leaving you with only smiling, dancing and shouting.
I wouldn't be much of a critic if I didn't note the humor of the song, but I'm not much of a critic. I'm suspicious and optimistic all at once. If I like something, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt. I love Electric Six, and I believe millions more people should as well, but I also believe that their comedic elements have cost them respect and popularity. On the surface, I suppose I can understand: The band replaced members with names like Disco and Rock and Roll Indian with other people named Frank Lloyd Bonaventure and 661453 Johnny Na$hinal, everything they sing about deals with sex and dancing and groping and yelling. But all of this "comedy" (or "stupidity" if you will) has been done so consistently that it must have been thought through to the letter. It seems impossible to take anything about Electric Six seriously, but that actually makes me take them completely seriously. They seem to care so little about being taken seriously that I have to take them seriously. When a band takes this many steps to consciously label themselves as the dumbest thing in rock today, you have to wonder if the opposite is true. But all this is just comedy stuff, which is still trumped by musical enjoyment. The good thing about the Six is that they do all of these dumb things better than anyone on the planet, and they know it.
The difference between Electric Six and other "serious" bands is sort of like the difference between the movies Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Intellectually, I can tell Dark Knight is the better movie. It possesses more moral complexity and the themes are stranger and show greater dexterity... but Iron Man just plain kicks ass through and through. Even though I got lots of great stuff from the darker, "better" film (with the characters I prefer, no less), Iron Man still ended up giving me more of what I wanted in a superhero movie, as opposed to giving me more of what I'm supposed to want.
Electric Six was founded on the Iron Man philosophy. I'm probably supposed to listen to bands with better lyrics and stranger instrumentation, and the themes should strive to deal with adult issues as opposed to out-dumbing early Van Halen and Kiss. But this is rockin'. If I want to learn something, I'll read a book. And as far as the comedic elements go, "Dancing" embodies the "joke" through and through. Why should the fact that it's funny make it any less great? Even though they're making fun of heavy metal, does that mean Dethklok can't play some of the best, hardest, shredding metal around? Just because Beck's "Debra" is faux Prince, does that mean it can't be the best Prince song Prince never recorded? Everything in these examples, just like in "Improper Dancing," is done to comedic levels, including greatness.
Video note: Someone much smarter than me could tell me if this is an official Electric Six video or not. It seems like it would be up their alley. It also represents the best audio version of the song I could find, though there is a good live version out there with Valentine holding a pinata for the whole song. It still doesn't include the "YES!" at the very end -- why must you torment me, internet media creators?! -- so when it gets there, you'll just have to shout it yourself.