Thursday, May 30, 2013

License to Kill (2010) from SPECTRA*Paris


Elena Alice Fossi, SPECTRA*Paris -- Agent Jane

The sound of footsteps that at first have a laissez-faire pace soon quicken with a sense of urgency before melting into the opening notes of “License to Kill” as Elena Alice Fossi takes aim and hits the mark with a popping noir electro-rock number. With lyrics, Drowning in red water / I must speak to agent Bond! / Creeping the dark path, Fossi thus begins a spy filled journey on the second album by SPECTRA*Paris. Of course Fossi is no stranger to taking lead vocals: many listeners of electronic darkwave will likely recognize her name associated with the Italian band, Kirlian Camera, founded in 1980 by Angelo Bergamini. Fossi joined Kirlian Camera in 1999 as lead singer, and in the intervening years since, she has focused on a variety of side projects.

In 2006 while Fossi was working on a third album for her side project Siderartica, she found that the direction she was exploring didn’t fit with the project. At that point, she founded SPECTRA*Paris as a “rock band filled with love for aesthetics, fun and drama! Crime, spy stories, fashion and sex at the Opera house!!!” (Original Sin Fanzine Blog Interview, May 2010). In addition, Fossi outfitted S*P with all female musicians, a rarity in the sea of all male bands that populate the industry at large. And in the following year, “Dead Models Society (Young Ladies Homicide Club)” was released through the Trisol label. In her first album, she referenced Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Carol Reed’s The Third Man, and Fossi did a cover of Tears for Fear “Mad World” from the cult film Donnie Darko. References to and blending popular culture would be a recurring theme for Fossi on her second album.

“License to Kill” started taking shape in 2009. Again, Fossi turned to cinema for inspiration and continued to explore the themes of her first album. This time she crossed Brian De Palma’s musical Phantom of the Paradise, released in 1974, with the spy genre, and who else better represents the genre than James Bond. “In a few words, charming agent 007 will have to investigate on a disquieting facts having Swann – unquestioned boss of the Death Records – as a main and surely weird character” (SPECTRA*Paris MySpace exclusive interview, July 1, 2009). She used the combination of genres, in this case opera house musical and spy, to convey the injustice and difficulties facing bands today in the music industry (Black Magazine Interview, December 2010). Fossi incorporates Swan, the villain from De Palma’s movie, and makes several references to James Bond, by name and nods to some of the Bond movies. Fossi professes to taking all of what she watches, making “a massacre of all that useless trash I’ve seen, going to select just a few frames from several movies” (PeekaBoo Interview, April 15, 2011) in order to create her own movie via her albums. 

Taking a look at the various glamour photos of the S*P band, one can readily see their homage to the spy genre. Lean, beautiful lethal bodies in high heeled leather boots and black trench coats, or much less, toting “hand” guns, these ladies represent the sexy equivalent of James Bond. Fossi admits that music isn’t her muse as much as the written and visual forms of popular culture around her (PeekaBoo Interview, April 15, 2011). However, along with the visual iconography, lyrics play an important part to the visual representation that Fossi creates. She describes her “store of thoughts and ideas is a like a TV screen whereas characters, colours and settings are taking place. That’s just the reason why I’m used to attaching great importance to lyrics, even though I couldn’t be under the illusion that I’m succeeding in expressing all that I would like in 5 minute music per song.” (Frank Bentert from Bodystyler Magazine, May 2011).

“License to Kill” is comprised of ten tracks, two of which are instrumentals, which describes the story of the conniving Death Records owner by the name of Swan. Will Swan’s empire be toppled?

Track 01 License to Kill
This track could be seen as the prelude to the entire album, setting the stage of the lies and deceit that exist. Fossi sings about looking for salvation from drowning and believes that death of another will cleanse her. She seeks out Agent Bond for help. Many references are made to murder and various weapons – gun, knife, hands, stinging needles – in this electro-rock song. The strength of the music and Fossi’s vocals lends itself to being in the company of many of the more recent Bond theme songs by contemporary pop/rock artists. Whereas Bond has his iconic gun barrel sequence, S*P has the theatre stage. As the song fades, one can almost hear the sweep of the heavy velvet curtain swooshing back as a spotlight begins to illuminate center stage.

Track 02 A Clockwork London
Fossi continues the electro-rock tempo as she dips into a darker driven beat with help of electric guitars. The theme shifts from murder to the concept of death and the disposition of one’s soul. Our singer could be dying but who would know when the stage fa├žade is an illusion: Here no one knows me, my bloody hands / I could look as a pretty girl! Fossi says she is living for her dreams however the consequences are high. There are no references to Bond or spies in general; instead, the musical aspect, in this case the stage performance is central. It sets up the conflict that needs to be resolved.

Track 03 007 Gold
Movie samplings of a conversation between police dispatch and a patrol unit that cuts off abruptly with the line “She’s got a gun!” introduces another electro-rock song with synthpop elements that give way to more industrial sounding electric guitars. This song returns to the spy aspect of the story, setting up a relationship between spy and musical references that alternate back and forth between the tracks. Bond is referred to by film titles such as “GoldenEye” and “License to Kill” as well as the truncated title “From Russia”. The spy seems to be on a stake out while Fossi finds strength to fight: My shiva golden eye / Got fever like a fire / See people throwing dice / My shiva golden eye / And now I’m about to [shoot] him dead.

Track 04 Movie Ghouls
Returning to the theatre, the pace slows to a synthpop ballad. The lyrics become more emotional and personally symbolic for Fossi. Here tale seems to have the power to turn people to stone, or from the keys of undisclosed spells she now possesses. She has the power; our spy is nowhere to be found in this track.

Track 05 Aston Martin DBS
This is the first of two instrumentals offered by Fossi. It revs the beat back up like the passing seconds of a clock. Just as the song hits its groove, it is over. It’s only 72 seconds long, which is unfortunate since it is a sporty rhythm that is very catchy. The Bond reference is of course in the title.

Track 06 Carrie Satan
The ticking beat carries over into this darkish synthpop song. The lyrics reveal bad things are closing in on Fossi yet she believes she will prevail in spite of the hardships and criticisms that surround her.

Track 07 Death Records
Here’s where Fossi gets to the heart of the problem: Swan, as owner of Death Records, masterminds the exploitation of her musical talents and profitability. She plays with her vocals, twisting and sharpening her voice with the accompaniment of harsh determined electric guitars. At moments, her voice becomes sorrowful and soul searching in its mood. Bond appears and faces Swan as Fossi’s anger swells against Swan and his lies. On stage, the fame and fortune (for Swan anyway) is touted. There is fear in Bond’s presence but he doesn’t seem to exact justice or resolution: No suspect comes out / Just lights on the stage … Their eyes full of fear.

Track 08 Lost Highway Voices
Fossi returns to a ballad’s pace, her voice wavering and breathlessly whispering the lyrics as she realizes there is no going back, only forward. Perhaps to a better place: And words to light the creepy skies / And rain to clean sweet cheering lies / Across the beauty that remains. All her barriers have been broken, but Fossi is hopeful. Our agent appears for the last time.

Track 09 S.I.S. Soundtrack
The second instrumental accompanied by some supporting metallic sounding vocals compliment the 95 second track. It is reminiscent of Kraftwerk returning to the more electro-rock tone. The song incorporates a guitar drilling out the melody with a synthpop wailing that drives the beat along to an all too short song that seems to tease the listener towards the finale.

Track 10 Phantom Theme (Beauty and the Beast)
Fossi covers the 1974 Paul Williams song (same title) that was featured in De Palma’s movie. It is the climatic moment in which both sides – good and evil – assemble and are reconciled within Fossi herself, a new self. Resolution is unclear: Like a circus on parade / Seldom close enough to see / I wander through an angry crowd / And wonder what became of me. The original Williams song was over eight minutes long (Paul William's Phantom of the Paradise Original Soundtrack, Youtube) but Fossi chose to cover the last half of the song. The track and lyrics compliment Fossi’s vocal range and style. This may be the best song on the album to showcase her vocal prowess, and I would say, it rivals her cover of “Mad World” (a track from S*P’s first album).

“License to Kill” is a fascinating melting pot of cultural references to De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, James Bond and the spy genre while critcizing the nefarious dealings that plague the music business industry. The songs are edgy, chaotic and dark. The Bond references, particularly in the first track, are easily comparable with our famous British agent, while many of the other tracks limit to flirting with spy references. Visually, Fossi and her band don the secret agent persona of black trench coats or skimpy outfits of Bond girls. They even are seen poising with a red sports car in some photos. A third album was released by the group – a Christmas album in 2010 and features some of the same tracks from the second. Fossi has not indicated what’s next for the group, but hopefully, she’ll consider a fourth outing with our intrepid spy at some point in the near future.

All photos are from Kirlian Camera and SPECTRA*Paris websites. 



7 comments:

  1. Ah, Elena Fossi. One of the most/if not the most beautiful lady in the darkwave scene. I’ve been very anxious to hear the new Kirlian Camera album, Black Summer Choirs – I’ve got my pre-order at Projekt Darkwave for the limited edition, but alas us American will have to wait until early June to enjoy it.

    But I digress. There’s a lot of play going on in this cheeky album, and enough room for listeners to fill in additional story elements. I do not think Bond is on an official mission from MI6 for this story. I think an evil music label maybe isn’t a big enough fish for the British secret service – although this could be a Roger Moore era plot. I think this is unofficial business for Bond, much like the movie “License to Kill”, which this album obviously takes its namesake from. While Bond is on a mission of revenge in that film, I am thinking for this album, Bond is doing this as a personal favour to the character Fossi portrays herself. To take it a step further, I would be bold to say that Fossi has even seduced Bond to do this mission for her, a reversal of the tropes that Bond usually seduces the women. I’d like to think that Fossi has a lot in common with Xenia Onatopp, maybe using her literal and figurative “Killer Legs” against Bond.

    I always assumed “A Clockwork London” was referencing “A Clockwork Orange”, perhaps at least in regards to a bit of the ol’ “ultra violence”.

    I would also posit that “Phantom’s Theme” isn’t the only Brian de Palma reference for this album, but the song “Carrie Satan” as well – with “Carrie” being another film directed by de Palma. The line “In the end I'll spread my fire / In a flash, burning your craps / dropping my fire!” could be an allusion to the ending of “Carrie”, “all is ready for the trap” for the plan to drench her in pig’s blood, “Mama says that I’m impure” being a reference to Carrie’s conception, “So let's go to start the dance” a reference to the prom, and so on.

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  2. Thanks Nick. Since Fossi incorporates a lot of symbolism and she does link many movie references together throughout the album, so you are quite right that there is plenty of room for more analysis. I think she provides a wonderful roadmap of visuals to compliment her lyrics as well as her vocal versatility.

    I like your interpretation of Bond's involvement as a favour (or otherwise), hence why he is not central to the story, but a supporting cast. And, explains why he eventually disappears from the unfolding storyline. And, I too thought of the movie Carrie with regards to the song Carrie Satan. The stage as a trap is interesting because the stage is an ongoing theme and where several events take place in many of the songs.

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  3. Hi Michele,
    I read your blogspot - kindly shared by Elena Fossi - with great interest, and I really enjoyed it. I think it is absolutely upgradeable and expandable. For me personally, it is one of the rarely serious and profound discussion about this great musical novella. You offer the potential of a whole global concept, bringing together music, lyrics, symbolism (salvation, purity, sacrifice, social masks in the theatre of life, the reconciliation of good and evil in a new self…) cover art, photo sessions, interviews, references to the agent genre, musical opera and theatre, and all the interrelations. For this, a huge Thank You!

    Even if it seems your personal focus is primarily on the agent genre, as can be seen on your blog, I agree with Nicholas that probably every listener sees a different story in his/ her own mind-cinema, and that (in addition to "Phantom of the Paradise") references to "Carrie", "A Clockwork Orange", are also important. Maybe also "Twin Peaks" (Snoqualmie, Black Lodge, Red Lodge/ Room) and a "Lost Highway"- atmosphere. I would be glad if we might continue the discussion. An exchange of ideas & views can be very inspiring, can broaden your horizons & lead to new perspectives.

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  4. So, your question is indeed interesting: why James Bond is not central to the story, but a supporting cast (in a double sense: is he also supportive?)? Why the agent par excellence is already announced during the first song, and somehow disappears into nothingness, while only a few material traces attest to his existence?

    Perhaps Elena herself gives an indication of a part of the answer: "Let’s say that SPECTRA*Paris is a new James Bond. I have in mind a beautiful and sexy agent woman looking for justice... let’s call it Jane Bond!?!?!?" "[...] Time will come when women will have a chance to be at the same time beautiful, sexy and able to compose music like “Atmospheres” (Gyorgy Ligeti). We must take that power! We cannot wait for an approval from those idiots of the recording labels, otherwise we’re wasting time!!!" (Black Magazine - Spectra*paris interview, 12/2010 @ www.kirliancamera.com).

    The time is ripe for an alternative draft and fundamental changes in many fields, both in the simple, one-dimensional good-evil-world of James Bond, or even in the music biz, contrary to a continuous reproduction of habits. Summa summarum: self-empowering via class instead of mass, change instead of standstill, self-thinking instead of consumption of same old schemes and stereotypes in a black-and-white-world, true justice instead of equality and egalitarianism, which is often reduced to absurdity.

    In relation to your specific topic of spy-fi and James Bond, I want to ask, why a third entity - represented by James Bond - should be in a position to bring about true justice? Because it suggests to us that only James Bond - the personification of goodness, masculinity and virility – can defeat the so-called evil? Maybe he should just quietly disappear, because he is out of place in this complex S*p-world
    I mean, if we take a look at the world and the person of James Bond, what we see behind all the illusions?

    Fleming wrote, as he said, for reasonable, red-blooded, heterosexual readers in trains, planes and beds. This statement says a lot already. In my opinion, the simple structured world of elementary contrasts is clearly divided in a black-white-antagonism. This distinction relates also to morality, states, races, gender/ sex, and political systems…
    Although good and evil are equally strong in the beginning, in the final battle is apparently that the so-called good will triumph. Thus, it appears that the clear outcome in the world of James Bond is only the beginning for a spectralien agent. Where James Bond ceases S*p starts.
    James Bond is a man of many talents, but of little substance or characteristics, without conflicts, doubts and decision constraints in his self. Bond is morally good. What he does is morally good, legitimized by a higher authority. He is an obedient subject, where the authority of a supervisor replaces conscience and self-thinking.

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  5. As a final note, you wrote that "Visually, Fossi and her band-do the secret agent persona of black trenchcoats or skimpy outfits of Bond girls. OK, it may seem if one only looks at the beautiful facade (= theatre/ stage: Here no one knows me/ my bloody hands./
    I could look as a pretty girl!). Maybe there are some parallels to the Bond Girls, revealing briefly in special moments, just like emotional injuries. But contrary to S*p
    I can not see an active part, the struggle for and the pursuit of true justice. Bond Girls (Not Bond Women!) are a passive models of innocence without virginity, who are usually in a familiar relationship with the bad guy, an Anti-Bond in every sense. Variations are allowed only in relation to the facade/ stage (the hair or skin color). They correspond to the Jungian archetype of the girls figure.

    James Bond is the only one who fulfils the task to rescue them from the arms of the wicked. A classic story of the hero, who saves the maiden/ virgin from the evil dragon. A Bond girl lacks largely female individuality. The salvation lies in the re-introduction into the area of sexual lust by Bond, whether by day or night, in Russia and in the Bahamas, over and under water, or an inch from death. They have their significance in the fact that they prove that a man is stronger, more attractive and more intelligent. Their inadequacies are to be filled by the proclaimed masculinity of James Bond in a sexual act.

    And also in relation to that way of salvation, S*p offers a non-static, fluid counter-concept: maybe salvation by sacrifice written with a splash of blood in a death zone, through dissolution of opposites and firmly entrenched patterns of thought, habit and behaviour, reconciled in Jane Bond alias Carrie alias Alex alias Elena Fossi...


    Many greetings & all the best
    Luca

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  6. @ Michele - thanks for your words! You'll have to take a look at her other projects to see if she uses similar poetics. I am not sure how much she contributes to KC in terms of lyrics, and while KC has quite a few concept albums (Invisible Front 2005), they go a slightly different route in their imagery and expression there-of.

    @ Luca - Something to build on the concept of the battle of "good vs evil" and the idea that Death Records is the battleground for it. The literal stance given in Spectra Paris' "License to Kill" and in Elena interviews is that this is a battle of her and bands/artists against Swann and Death Records, a criminal owner who treats his roster unjust. And while this is certainly is a problem, it's a fairly bourgeois / first world problem if you ask me. An artist working in "terrible conditions" (there are brown M&Ms in my candy bowl!) or not getting paid all their royalties, or being forced to crank out material to fulfill contractual obligations. These are battles fought in echelons of society us lower/middle class are not privy too - much like James Bond's typical adventures of going to upscale casinos, drinking martinis and wearing a tux. It is out of touch with us.

    BUT - I still remain steadfast that "License to Kill" is multifaceted, with room to posit more meaning into to. Elena may have overtly stated the battle is between the artists (Her) and the Records label, but I see no reason why we can't expand this battle into something more societal. What other battle in "good and evil" in this scenario could impact you or I? Well, the hot issue right now is piracy and content owners from record labels and movie companies unfairly taking individuals to court, exerting jack booted thug tactics on innocent internet users. It would not be fair fetched at all to posit that the Death Records company in "License To Kill" and the battle against them isn't just for the artist rights, but in a grand scheme of things, perhaps our rights as well with consuming different media. It definitely is a discussion that could happen that can expand the scope of this Spectra Paris album, and surmise other aspects that may not have been intentional during its genesis.

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  7. @ Nick, I'll have to have a look through the Kirlian Camera discography as well as Siderartica.

    @ Luca, thank you very much for your thought provoking comments. I cannot agree more that the time is ripe for a methodology of analysis that moves beyond the comparison of well-worn tropes, however I do find them helpful as a starting point for delving deeper into the project at hand. I've been exploring transmedia studies as one way of building off of masculinity/femininity and good/evil stances...Fossi provides a complete transmedia journey with "License to Kill" and I like that she experiments with the concept of resolution from within (good/evil reconciled into one new self) rather than without (Bond saving the day).

    Separately, while there is so much analysis that can be discussed about the CD, I do want to say that I really like the album. I find a lot pleasure from listening to albums that take me on a journey and this is quite the journey. Additionally, I'm quite fond of synthpop and appreciate the nods to electro-rock and glam-rock.

    And Luca, if you have any interest, you really should submit an abstract for my anthology.

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