Review Summary: Back in the saddle
There’s something distinctly Electric Six’ish about the cover of Mustang, as I can’t think of any other band that’s self-deprecating enough to not bother with having their name spelled correctly on their album artwork. It’s not like this grave error will endanger the act’s well-being – there’s still plenty of drunken jocks who’ll come to concerts, buy the branded lighters with bottle openers at the end, have a good time during “Gay Bar” and remain blissfully oblivious of what the band has been up to since they got dropped from XL Recordings. That’s how you pay the mortgage, not studio album sales. Still, the mortgage being taken care of by a handful of old hits is pretty handy, as it lets Electric Six do whatever the hell they feel like doing on studio albums.
Mustang is a curious little entity. At the core, it’s a collection of really solid and catchy tunes, the likes of which haven’t been seen since KILL. There’s no dead time here, no filler whatsoever, and pretty much every last one of those tracks is guaranteed to be a complete smasher live. I have no trouble envisioning the crowd going bonkers to “Cranial Games”, “Unnatural Beauty” or “Skin Traps”. “The New Shampoo” is as sensually groovy as the band ever got, “Gimme the Eyes” is as absurd as it’s unexpected and “Cheryl vs. Darryl” is another magnificent, blooming closer for the books. However, to keep the band busy in the studio and growing as musicians, the recorded arrangements feature constant intricacies and orchestration quirks that add a lot of flavour and make this deceptively simple record an incredibly potent grower.
Take the anchor track of the album, “Iron Dragon”. The first couple of goes through leave you amazed at all the masterfully constructed tension and energy, the powerful melodies and rock-solid vocal performance. Afterwards, you start peeking behind the curtain and notice the discrete ambience (the subtle effects on the piano in the first pre-chorus remind me of the landslide known as “We Use the Same Products”), the near-constant subtle guitar phrases in the background, and the little spastic freak-out at the end. Mind you, there’s more. Pretty much every single track features surprises like that, and I’d like to direct you to the tambourine break and harmonized clean guitar solo slapped in the middle of the rolling “Jessica Dresses Like a Dragon” and “Miss Peaches Wears an Iron Dress” with shrill skronk surrounding the saccharine, naïve interior. Of course there’s more, but I’ll leave the rest for you to dig up yourself.
A side effect of the chosen approach (burying little arrangement nuggets out of plain sight) is that the rocking songs seem to not rock quite as hard they could. For example, look at “Unnatural Beauty” – the riffs are going to get many a head going when whipped out live, but here the track feels hazy and overly laid back as it cuts a slice out of itself to leave room for the constant keyboard shimmers. As such, many a cut on Mustang won’t initially satiate the listener in a manner the instantly gratifying “Show Me What Your Lights Mean” does, furrowing many an eyebrow, but it all starts making sense on repeated listens. As Dick Valentine proclaims on “I Never ***ed Her” – “It’s a taste that is acquired.” Very fittingly, a truly bombastic guitar solo buried in the mix shows up immediately afterwards.
Once acquainted with, Mustang lacks weak spots, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if in due course it’s going to be viewed as the penultimate Electric Six record. The lack of the immediacy of a big chunk of the band’s back catalogue turns out to be an unlikely strength, as the depth sneaks up on you completely unexpected. Do yourselves a favour; check this out, regardless of what your opinion on “Gay Bar” may be. Eventually it will click with you too.