Before James Bond was fighting Father Time and Julian Assange analogues, he and his films served two key purposes for the viewing population: they quenched the viewer’s thirst for danger, thrills and excitement, and they set Bond’s daring escapes overtop an array of exotic locales, enticing the audience to the wonders of another place. With time, world travel has become less exceptional and action cinema has become more extraordinary and explosive, leaving Bond’s exploits tame by comparison to his superhero peers (not enough leveled cities, I suppose). In spite of this, the ’60s Bond films still breathe with the air of a day when the Caribbean, the Continent, or even Miami Beach seemed fantastical and almost inaccessible.
The Vickers, a psychedelic pop band from Florence, Italy, manage to recapture that seemingly bygone feeling on their single, “She’s Lost.” It’s a very specific feeling. Lots of music, especially psychedelic music, creates the feeling of another world, but it’s usually just that: otherworldly, a chaotic planet of the wild-eyed and wasted. The Vickers stay closer to familiar territory, but to greater and more provocative effect. I should be able to go there–I could buy a ticket tomorrow–but it just seems so out of reach. So I sit at home, and I daydream.
The single opens with a carnival swirl and some fuzzy guitar swells, setting up a canvas (or perhaps a funhouse mirror) for Andrea Mastropietro’s verses. His delivery is matter-of-fact, with an air of disinterested whimsy. The voice oscillates backward and forward in time, one moment recalling Montreal and another Lennon’s psychedelic performances. There are some strange sounds going on and the singer seems a bit perturbed (but still composed). It’s not until the song’s excellent hook that Mastropietro becomes more his own as a singer and the sense of uneasiness comes out of hiding. This paradoxically happens just as the music is allowed to breathe. Regardless of this uneasiness, however, the mood of the song is dominantly a pleasant one.
The instruments employ atmospheric techniques but the band members aren’t trying to hide that they’re playing guitars. An old school bag of tricks and effects affords educated listeners knowledge of how the sausage is made. This doesn’t make it any less appetizing, and the use of classic psychedelic guitar sounds, while certainly creating atmosphere, never diverges into pure soundscapes. This definitely remains a song no matter how heady it gets.
The Vickers name the “big tunes/sounds of the ’60s” among their influences, and this isn’t disagreeable, but despite the “psychedelic” label, the music evokes less the drugs, the psychosis and the social rage of the ’60s and more the style and glamour of a Bond film. The Bond series has not been ignorant to psychedelic imagery–especially in its often stunning title sequences–but it always maintained order. The imagery may be dreamlike and exotic but it is formed into a style, a brand that is cohesive and controlled. After all, who is more in control than 007? The same logic applies to the series’ use of foreign settings and the thrills it instills by throwing Bond into impossible situations. It’s an illusion of risk: we fear for his life, but simultaneously know with absolute certainty that nothing is going to happen to him. As the films remind us post-credits, James Bond will return. And as it turns out so will we (the listeners), as the melding of psychedelic and pop music practices this technique exactly. We’re treated to the chaos of a psychedelic experience without ever having to worry about falling into the black hole. It might sound cowardly, but it’s really just great pop music technique.
With “She’s Lost,” the Vickers exemplify the strange emotional resonance of the illusion of danger. It’s incredibly appealing, but the bass guitar’s unwavering consistency inhibits the hypnosis. Even as the lead guitar ventures out into space, we stay tethered to Earth. A lot of psychedelic records might evoke such far out imagery, but I ultimately pictured this song set to the escapades of a hip spy trotting across Europe, stylized bullets whizzing past his head. But they won’t hit him; this song creates a world that is clean if unfocused, safe if uneasy. Even though they sing in English, they’re clearly coming from somewhere not quite inside the Anglo-American rock tradition. There’s this indistinct air of coolness, the kind that will forever elude your neighborhood punk-rock band, but I think this has less to do with their being a psychedelic band imbuing their music with some ambiguous “Italian-ness” and more to do with their being an expert pop band imbuing their songs with psychedelia (and its idealization of the “other places”).
As for the future of The Vickers, will they delve closer to the black hole? And if they do, will they keep being able to get themselves clear of its pull? I’m not sure, but you have to respect the sangfroid (if not quite the courage) of a band who would postulate not only that you can gaze into a black hole and live to sing about it, but that a trip inside need not be a one-way affair.