On first mention, The Virgineers sounds like the name of some folk revival group who would be playing Kingston Trio numbers at state fairs. One listen to their self-titled, and, so far, only album, though, reveals a group (“virgin ears,” get it?) that specializes in turning the way-back clock to the paisley summer of ’67. They sound like The Beatles during their Sgt. Pepper / Magical Mystery Tour period, along with Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, as filtered through XTC, especially in their Dukes of Stratosphear psychedelic guise. As a matter of fact, if you loved those two mid-‘80s Dukes platters (25 O’Clock and Psonic Psunspot), then you will flip your paisley wigs over this blotter of Owsley-drenched sunshine. Just like on those two albums, you get to have fun playing spot-the-‘60s-influence.
The first song, “Love Circus,” actually sounds like something that The Dukes would have conjured up from their acid-fried brainstems. It’s got all of the trappings, including an Andy Partridge-like vocal. From there, they pour on the Beatlesque touches, like the John Lennon-inspired “Sun,” which features a vocal effect that sounds just like the one George Harrison conjured up for “Blue Jay Way.” “Floating” bears a strong resemblance to “The Porpoise Song” by The Monkees during their psychedelic Head days, and is one of the highlights of the album.
Many of the songs reveal the more whimsical, English tea-garden variety of psychedelia, which bands like The Hollies and Village Green-era Kinks specialized in. The period production techniques are spot-on, and they have quite a flair for memorable melodies.
Some songs, like “How Far Does Space Go,” have more of a late-‘60s, early-‘70s Floydian space vibe (hence the title) – a little on the self-indulgent side, but then again, that’s partly what that era was all about.
The one song that really doesn’t sound like it belongs, but is a wonderful song nonetheless, is the ironically-titled “Be My Guru,” which reveals a strong Ziggy-era David Bowie glam rock feel. If anything, it shows that this band wasn’t just living in a 1960s time warp. Then again, rehashing 1972 is not exactly living in the modern world either. It does rock out more, though, and keeps the album from becoming too twee.
This band has remained a mystery to many. In fact, I had never heard of them until just the other day. This album came out a little more than a decade ago, though, and apparently is almost impossible to find these days. According to their website, where you can still purchase it as a download, they have also released a handful of singles since then, including one that just came out back in February, “Valentine,” which still carries on the ’60s vibe. If and when they are ever going to release a follow-up to this album, though, I haven’t a clue.
At times, the group comes across as more of a lighthearted pastiche than as a serious modern venture, but it’s all done with amazing skill, humor and love. If you were sad to see the 1960s end, or if you wish you had lived through that time, then The Virgineers will gladly bring on the flashbacks. As they used to say, “far out and groovy.”