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Even at its innumerable low moments, Kiss was usually on to something huge. Consider the group’s head-scratching foray into dance rock on its widely hated 1979 LP, Dynasty. More particularly, consider a percolatin’ little Studio 54-style ditty called “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”; Kiss Army veterans of a certain age may even recall shaking their pre-ironic groove thangs to that one once or twice. And who are we to judge? As disco-era rock trash goes, “Lovin’ You” has got it all over “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

But even though the track charted within spitting distance of the Top 10, Kiss cognoscenti reviled it at the time as mindless disco-duck fodder for the kiddies, who were beginning to outnumber the stoners (read: the Kiss cognoscenti) at the band’s shows. Turns out, however, that “Lovin’ You” was yet another bold stroke of the group’s deeply misunderstood genius, a genre-bending, demo-shifting experiment whose time, like arena football, color-coded terror alerts, and The Bachelorette, had yet to come.

How things have changed. Last year, Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet made good on the party-startin’ promise of Kiss’ discofied pop-metal. Now we get Electric Six, a group of glam-rocking Dance Fever fans who make young Andrew’s spastic shenanigans look positively subtle. These guys—who began life in 1996 as the Wildbunch—ain’t just jokin’ around.

Or maybe they are. Electric Six is actually five Detroit lads with a hankering for rock’s fabulously debauched past, a deep-seated need to shake their moneymakers (and yours), and a penchant for wacky self-mythology. The members come with stage names that seem torn from the pages of a comic book. Disco plays bass; M. is the drummer; Surge Joebot plays guitar, as does the Sixer, who calls himself—I kid you not—the Rock n’ Roll Indian. Frontman duties belong to Dick Valentine, who, if he is to be believed, turned to a life of rock only after failing to achieve his dream of becoming a weatherman.

But Valentine isn’t to be believed, of course. He and his band are musical merry pranksters whose performance-art leanings are submerged just enough to make you think that maybe, just maybe, they’re playing it straight. On the keeping-it-real spectrum, they land to the right of Tenacious D but way, way to the left of the brooding, no-fun-allowed types in Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And they write better tunes than either.

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Earlier this year, the Six got major chart action in England—launching pad lately for virtually all would-be American-rock phenoms—with a dance-floor scorcher dubbed “Danger! High Voltage.” A holdover from the band’s Wildbunch days, the track did a tour of duty on 2002’s essential As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 compilation and now makes a triumphant return on Fire, Electric Six’s most excellent debut album. The tune opens with Valentine shrieking, “Fire in the disco!/Fire in the Taco Bell!” A little later, “Taco Bell” gets rhymed with “gates of hell,” and, though the band steadfastly denies it, Jack White of the White Stripes even comes out to play, joining Valentine to help find the missing syllable in words such as “desire” (pronounced “dee-zie-yah”) and “kiss” (pronounced “kee-yis”). After 3:34 of blood, lust, and tears, the tune finally throbs to a close with a sax solo that sounds like a cut-and-paste job nicked from a Romeo Void track.

Speaking of the Void, the Six give those New Wave-era not-so-greats another semirespectful nod on the strutting rocker “Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother)”: “I might like you better if we fucked together,” growls Valentine over his band’s chugging din, updating Debora Iyall’s coarse come-on for the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City age. The Rolling Stones get their props, too, with Valentine belting out the body-slamming “Nuclear War (On the Dance Floor)” to an unnamed but very “pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty girl.” And on “I’m the Bomb,” after identifying himself as a “man with conversation skills…a man with hundred-dollar bills,” Valentine makes just like Diamond Dave on “Panama,” reaching down between his legs and easing the seat back while his band drops out and counts down to the next explosion of the track’s fuzzed-out, syncopated chorus.

Sonic allusions abound on Fire. The radio-ready “I Invented the Night” cross-wires the chord progression from Nick Gilder’s jailbait classic “Hot Child in the City” with a synth riff stolen from Gary Numan. Album-opener “Dance Commander” borrows the cadence of Madonna’s white-girl rap in “Vogue” and then promptly bludgeons it with the power chords from “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” On the set-closing “Synthesizer,” Electric Six do the Safety Dance while, in the background, band “associate” Tait Nucleus taps out a manic SOS on the titular instrument. And just in case anyone has missed the point, nearly every tune on Fire shares musical DNA with both the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and “Ballroom Blitz,” the frantic headbanging anthem that pop-trash titans Sweet rode to Top 40 success back in ’73.

With all that arty-pants pop-referencing going on, Fire is an almost inevitably entertaining pastiche, if seriously derivative. But truth be told, the disc does include a couple of duds. “Vengeance and Fashion” and “Getting Into the Jam” are both lumbering Urge Overkill knockoffs, out-of-place time wasters with little of the dance-floor savoir-faire and none of the wit that Valentine & Co. lace so effortlessly through the rest of the album. And speaking of wit, the band’s penchant for musical in-jokes is sure to cause the Department of Indie Rock Security to raise the authenticity-alert level to Code Orange—or, worse, start a back-channel smear campaign blacklisting the band for suspected Weird Al tendencies.

But Kiss proved long ago, of course, that it’s possible for a rock band to have a sense of humor and not be a novelty act—even, in fact, when said band wears clown makeup in concert. Admittedly, the guys in Electric Six aren’t quite Knights in Satan’s Service yet. But on the evidence of Fire, they are definitely on to something huge. CP