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"Do the dance, the dance of love"
|Main Category:||Prog Rock|
|Also applicable:||Lush Pop, Art Rock|
|Starting Period:||The Artsy/Rootsy Years|
|Also active in:||The Interim Years|
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In case the above photo inspires you with dreams of a gang bang, you actually might have something there... just keep in mind it would be an early Seventies' boheme gang bang, and that means A-R-T in a big way. That's Curved Air all right. A band almost entirely forgotten today, yet a band unique in many ways. A band that almost singlehandedly pioneered decadence. A band that pioneered 'glam-prog', elevating style above substance in such a radical manner as would be undreamed before. A band that breathed a whole new life into the meaning of 'sex symbol'. A band that actually proved that sexiness can exist in rock even if it IS all purged from its original Afro-American roots. A band that did many other things as well.Of course, I'm slightly exaggerating here, but there's a grain of truth in every one of those sentences, and hopefully this description will perk up your interest in the band. Especially if you're an art rock fan, of course, in which case Curved Air are a must; but might I say that even if you detest bands like Yes or Genesis, these guys are stll well worth a try. At their heart, Curved Air, much like Renaissance, were very much of a pop outfit, never being above hook-filled songs or obviously, sometimes even defiantly commercial, overtones. Unlike Renaissance, though, they were louder and meaner, never being above using a gruff distorted electric guitar or a dirty synth tone; and, of course, the band's sneezy, sarcastic, and often smutty lyrics are a far cry from Renaissance' shining white angelic bliss. For all of their seven-year existence, Curved Air were a frustrating mess. The original lineup was rather stable, but that lineup only managed three albums before tension within the band split it up, forever separating the band's unforgettable frontlady Sonja Kristina and the band's main creative force, keyboardist Francis Monkman (another important creative force, the violinist Darryl Way, actually came back later). Why these relations were so tense is anybody's guess, but I kinda suppose that a band with four guys and one gal can't really get it on for way too long unless that gal possesses all the charms of Grace Slick. During this initial period, Curved Air actually managed to become a well-established commercial force in the UK, their albums all hitting the Top 20 and their live act being one of the most glamorous of the epoch, with light shows, fantastiwastic costumes and everything that goes along with it. Besides that, they also introduced picture discs, spent Britain's annual budgets on decorating album sleeves and indulged in all kinds of romantic nostalgic excess. And did it with gusto. Unfortunately, this all came to an end in 1973, when the band practically came to an end; the new version of the band, revolving around newcomers such as violin expert Eddie Jobson (later of Roxy Music, later of Jethro Tull, later of God knows what else), carried on the lush romantic ideals of the original Curved Air but kinda lacked focus, and fell apart even quicker. The last incarnation of Curved Air lasted for two years, was far more pop-inclined yet never really recaptured the commercial success of the early years, as prog was increasingly becoming out of favour, yet the world wasn't really ready for 'sellouts' yet, as it would be in the early Eighties. That said, I wouldn't advise anybody to miss late period Curved Air, particularly not Midnight Wire, which I still consider one of their best. So what are Curved Air really about and what did they innovate? In brief, they were one of the first bands to try and bridge back the gap between 'serious' and 'lightweight' music before others came to do the trick. Where the general tendency of the early Seventies was "experiment above all" and bands would get more and more complex all the while sacrificing the true values of music (listenability, anyone? Tales From Topographic Oceans? Remember?), Curved Air were the ones to carefully observe the balance between accessible, simple song structures and complex experimentation. They never released a side-long suite, nor did their lyrics ever get off the deep end. That's not all, though. Curved Air raised the art of rock theatrics to a whole new level. It seems to me that the band never took itself all that seriously nor believed in whatever they were doing - all their witty antics and almost grossly overdone album sleeves make the impression of a bunch of grown-up childs playing an interesting and involving game rather than sincerely believing in doing something enlightening. That might annoy some, but at least they were pretty honest about it, and nobody will be deceived or led astray by any of their albums. One might question the validity of this "innovation" - after all, prog rock in general is considered to be 'fake' and all that crap - but remember, the initial giants of progressive rock took their art very seriously, and it really took bands like Curved Air to at the same time inflate the prog balloon with extensive and pompous theatrics and deflate it by not pulling serious faces. In all, Curved Air are quite interesting. The band never really had an ace songwriter, depending on team effort rather than individual approach, and therefore the songwriting is usually hit-and-miss, but their arrangements are almost always inventive enough to make even relative throwaways sound acceptable; and if even that won't help, Kristina's proto-Debbie Harry cooing will certainly help. Lineup: Sonja Kristina - vocals; Robert Martin - bass; Francis Monkman - keyboards, guitar; Florian Pilkington-Miksa - drums; Darryl Way - violin. Martin quit, 1971, replaced by Ian Eyre; Eyre quickly replaced by Mike Wedgwood. Band collapsed, 1973, with only Sonja Kristina and Mike Wedgwood remaining; new lineup included Kirby Gregory on guitar, Eddie Jobson on violin and synths, Jim Russell on drums. Late 'poppy' Curved Air of the mid-Seventies: Sonja on vocals, Darryl Way returning on violin, plus Mick Jacques on guitars, Stewart Copeland (later of Police fame!) on drums, John Perry on bass. Perry quit in 1976, replaced by Tony Reeves.
Listenability: 3/5. The
band had a knack for hooks, but they also had a knack of pushing the "package"
in front, if you know what I mean.
Resonance: 2/5. It's all show-biz, baby. Glam-prog, if you know what I mean.
Originality: 3/5. Gotta give it to them, they weren't just a bandwagon-jumping outfit.
Adequacy: 3/5. Thankfully, the band wasn't pretentious enough.
Diversity: 1/5. Formula throughout.
Overall: 2.4 = D on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
"Glistening listening", I'd say, if not tremendously substantial.Best song: HIDE AND SEEK
Track listing: 1) It Happened Today; 2) Stretch; 3) Screw; 4) Blind Man; 5) Vivaldi; 6) Hide And Seek; 7) Propositions; 8) Rob One; 9) Situations; 10) Vivaldi With Cannons.
Arguably the first ever "glam-prog" album released - and a true landmark of sorts. A picture disc, decorated with all kinds of gimmicks both outside and inside (the actual music, I mean). This should be played loud, with the sun shining ferociously above your head, preferably with a company of friends and yeah, in a totally drunk state. Not stoned, though. This is not what I'd call music for potheads.There's not much deep vital essence behind all this glittery stuff, of course, but Curved Air don't pretend to go deep - if anything, the motto of this album is "we give you light music with an artistic tinge". The artistic tinge means that there are plenty of classical keyboards and almost as much classical violin here. The light music thing means that the songs are not too long, and for the most part, these guys don't consider themselves above using catchy pop hooks to draw in the listener. And, of course, a massive attractive factor is the vocal one - Sonja Kristina sounds as sexy and mind-blowing on her first album as she does on what might have been her spectacular hour five years later (Midnight Wire). Maybe the crucial word here would be 'arrogant', though. All of the above-said still wouldn't nearly be sufficient for the album to attain "minor classic" status if it weren't for the band's almost hooliganish audacity. All of them are willing to take chances, with wild guitars, mainac violins, and vocals that aren't really afraid to mix the mundane/profane with the godly/heavenly. Any other band and this would all result in cheapness and banality; Curved Air have enough talent to justify their "sacred turns lowly and vice versa" schtick. Take the 'Vivaldi' track, for instance. Darryl Way essentially does what Vanessa Mae would be doing a couple decades later - he takes The Four Seasons and rearranges it as an energetic rocking number; he even has enough gall to credit the final result to himself (well then again, it's still better than having all these stupid "by J. S. Bach and John Doe" credits, as if the two gentlemen were collaborating or something). Then halfway through something happens and the song almost becomes hardcore, with a distorted punkish guitar accompanying the violin as the track totally falls apart into a state of hellish chaos. Cheesy? Gimmicky? Yes it is, but it's also a great lot of fun, and there's a reason fans often consider this to be the definite highlight of the first album, if not the best track Curved Air ever did. Hah! It's definitely better than Jimmy Page's ridiculous guitar bowing anyway. Of course, you can't always go that far or you'll have more fans than Captain Beefheart. The less weirdos there are, the sounder the world! So this outrageous material is compensated by pretty straightforward sounding pop songs. 'It Happened Today', for instance, a 'modified tango' which introduces Kristina's big glossy vocal ego to the world. Musical sexiness was never like that... "Already you've forgotten why you came here/I can see exactly why you came". What a perfect ominous beginning for an ominous album, with a beautiful segue into a classical coda. Other "simpler" songs include the slightly bluesy 'Stretch', which uses a steady wah-wah/violin interplay as the main base upon which the rest of the melody is based - and that was way before Gentle Giant 'popularized' the marriage of wah-wah and violin among whacko progressive fans; and the folkish 'Blind Man', where it is proved that all you need to do if you want to transform an ordinary gentle acoustic ballad into a haunting dreamy piece of fantasy mystery is to put a little echoey effect on your singing. Well, of course, you also have to have talent and be able to understand what exactly is meant under 'fantasy mystery', but that's not something I'm ready to explain at the moment. Try consulting the 'bizarre' section on your favourite porn site instead. There are also 'big ones' here, too, and I don't necessarily mean in a running time way. 'Vivaldi' is one, but there's also 'Hide And Seek', the true musical thunder of the album. When a band that knows the basics of classical values and that is also ready to enchant the listener with a 'simple', but accessible approach to the material, is keen on producing a musical thunderstorm, just keep your head down, folks. Heavy monster riffs, a wah-wah six-string that screeches its base off, fat Spector-ish production and oh those vocals. She sounds like she's the Siren or something like that. Another definite highlight is 'Screw', even if that particular track may smell of lethargy... it goes for establishing a somewhat weird impression of both desperation and glory. What's the "screw" they're speaking of? Hey, it's definitely not that screw, you dirty little bastard. "See the screw slowly turn around, see it sink in without a sound/Feel your head split with every turn, feel the steel now begin to burn". It's, er, apocalyptic or sumpthin'. Anyway, not all the sons are equally good, there's a small patch of filler towards the end and everything like that, whatever, it's still the best Curved Air album (I haven't yet heard the second one, though), although Phantasmagoria does try to step a bit on its toes. And singlehandedly it should rip apart any doubts of Curved Air being a thoroughly derivative band; what they made here is quite spectacular and - blasphemous as it might sound - influential. Besides, it really warms my heart to hear a "sexy progressive rock" album, and a one that does not position despair and darkness above light joyful fun, too.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Simplifying a unique sound never really hurt anyone, right?Best song: BACK STREET LUV
Track listing: 1) Young Mother; 2) Back Street Luv; 3) Jumbo; 4) You Know; 5) Puppets; 6) Everdance; 7) Bright Summer Day '68; 8) Piece Of Mind.
One thing you couldn't never ever say about the first Curved Air album is that they were ripping off somebody. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to name another prog band that'd sound so confident, self-assured and innovative on their very first record - okay, maybe King Crimson. Spock's Beard, too, I guess, and probably Iluvatar, but then again I've never heard them, I just dig the kick-ass band names. Anyway, Curved Air pretty much played all their cards the first time around, and this left them completely devoid of new original ideas for the follow-up - so devoid, in fact, they couldn't even come up with a better name than the miserable wretched Second Album. Indeed.The All-Music Guide pretty much stopped at that and consequently trashed the album in an intelligent manner, but I'll just look at it from another side and say that most of the songs on here are excellent. What happens is perhaps Curved Air's most commercial-based approach before the 1975-76 version of the band; the entire record is dominated by short three-to-five minute pop songs with prog instrumentation, saved from inadequacy a la Styx with untrivial memorable melodies and more of that lustful dreamy voice. They save the "ambitious prog epic" for last, but for some reason, 'Piece Of Mind' never seems to really take off the ground for me - maybe because all the lengthy solos in the song had already been explored better in previous numbers (for instance, the final 'bubbly' keyboard solo that ends the album is generally similar to the solo on 'Young Mother' and thus rather redundant); I do admit, though, that the main vocal melody is totally on par with the rest of the songs on the record. Aw, but who gives a damn when you get stuff like 'Back Street Luv', Curved Air's most well-known song (which isn't really all that well known, if you get my drift - we're talking really scary obscurity here!)? Maybe it doesn't have a stronger right to be their signature tune than 'It Happened Today' or 'Marie Antoinette', but it's right up there, with one of the best electric piano riffs ever set to tape and a vocal melody that Paul McCartney would kill for around the mid-Eighties or even before that. With Curved Air's attitude, the main thing is to be stern and cold - and tasteful - and that riff really embodies that attitude, a love song that's even more merciless than the Rolling Stones in their Aftermath period, you could say. Funny, though, it sits right next to the romantic excourse 'Jumbo'; don't believe the title, it's one more of those lush baroque pieces (this time, like a hyper-slow, mantraic waltz) that takes you exactly the same places as the best classical romances do. Granted, with time Sonja would get MUCH more sexuality in her voice, culminating in Midnight Wire, but goddammit, that's not really needed here. Curved Air First Edition aren't so much about sexuality as they're about romance, and this is romance at its best. Christine McVie, eat your heart out. There are some more short rockin' pieces on here, too - 'Everdance' and 'You Know' are concise, tight and nicely written by people who really mean it. Darryl Way really is the main hero on most of these songs, with his violin riffs occupying centerplace - the only thing that can really threaten the violin are the vocals. That said, there are exceptions to every rule, as 'You Know' has a very prominent (and fluent) guitar part, well, heck, you can't live on violins forever unless your name is Vivaldi or you come from that God-forsaken place, Nashville Tennessee. Elsewhere, there's 'Puppets', with its unclear message - the marionette allegory is a well-known and well-used cliche, but in this particular case it's not even clear what the lyrics are really referring to (love? politics? whatever!); the song is hardly a highlight, but is still saved by its funny naggin' piano melody and rather, uhm, what'd I call it? - subtle vocal melody (next thing I know, I'll be calling on outside people to help me with my epithets. Or packing a thesaurus at least. Or studying musical theory and bugging you with chords and tonalities). And no Curved Air album is without its joke song, this time another - but significantly faster - stupid little waltz called 'Bright Summer Day '68', with juvenile lyrics that don't mean a thing and essentially just tell you this: "Then my Daddy shot Mom, so I've written this song, Just to tell all you folks out there cracking them jokes, how I felt all along". Yeah, right. Humor for low-grade nerds, but what's that stupid smile doing on my face all the same? So, in fact, the only defect of the album is that it was written by this shitty forgotten band, Curved Air, and thus shares all of that band's defects - you know how it goes. Everything sounds more or less the same, etc., etc., and one point taken off for self-repeating. 'Back Street Luv' is a great song, but none of the rest really shatter Mother Earth, which is the real reason the AMG trashed it, I suppose. Silly people, always needing something exceptional. This ain't the Beatles, so what are you squirming at? Relax! It's a good album! With a record like this in your backpack, you wouldn't have to worry about the fact that Uriah Heep were about to release Demons & Wizards at almost the same time!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
And some more of the same, even if there's somewhat more complexity here than usual.Best song: MARIE ANTOINETTE
Track listing: 1) Marie Antoinette; 2) Melinda (More Or Less); 3) Nothing Quite The Same; 4) Cheetah; 5) Ultra-Vivaldi; 6) Phantasmagoria; 7) Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?; 8) Over And Above; 9) Once A Ghost, Always A Ghost.
Yes! 'Marie Antoinette'! Boy do I love that song, an epic to be heard by everybody. The only other song about the French Revolution I can remember right now, off the cuff, is Rush's 'Bastille Day', and that one's absolute shit compared to Curved Air's romantic tale of the poor French queen. I can't gush enough at how all the parts of the track are so dang perfect. This lush baroque atmosphere of the main part, with the faraway dreamy smooth synth riff and the chimes and the steady gentle bassline, and Sonja singing as if she were standing in the middle of a ballroom all dressed in whatever she liked to dress in onstage... I don't even really need a handy-dandy accompanying video or anything, the imagery of the decadent, ceremonious, starchy high society is painted so impeccably. And then the rocking mid section, rousing and exciting but still actually presenting the whole picture from the point of view of the scared high society - 'they're over the balustrades! defying the cannon fire!' There are no special effects (strange enough, I actually expected such a gimmicky band as Curved Air to decorate the setting further with crowd noises and gunshots, but apparently they decided to let the listener's imagination paint all those things by itself), but that doesn't matter a single bit. And then it all reverts back to the original melody, but this time taken at a faster and more 'decisive' tempo, as if all the starchiness and forced majesticity were gone. Almost mathematical precision, if you ask me.And that's not all - just as you catch your breath, you're subjected to perhaps the most beautiful acoustic ballad in the entire catalog of Curved Air, 'Melinda (More Or Less)'. Actually, did I say acoustic? That's not an acoustic in the background, sounds more like a harpsichord to me... oh, well, now I hear there IS an acoustic AND a harpsichord, and a lovely flute rhythm as well and a lovely violin solo. Romanticism at its loveliest. Why the hell is nobody doing songs of such pure and unclampered loveliness nowadays? Sadly, they have passed away together with the charming naivete and almost childish sincerity that characterized the epoch. Today, you'd probably be afraid of being dissected in Rolling Stone if you did something of the kind. Today, what we need is serious and competent music that fully meets the advanced needs of the time. Like 'N Sync, for instance. Okay, don't let you catch me on this harmful nostalgic trail. Too bad the album never really ascends again to the height of the first two tracks - which prevents me from hailing it as Curved Air's best album, like many fans do, but there's still a lot to be said about the other songs. Hmm, let's see, the "dirty" side of Curved Air is well manifested on 'Not Quite The Same', a song dedicated to masturbation of all things; too bad the melody is nowhere near memorable, it almost sounds like a hurriedly penned account of an unlucky guy who constantly "busied himself, quite amusing himself, by abusing himself" set to a squishy musical background. It's still fun, nevertheless. And the song ends with a rather lacklustre instrumental (Way's violin spotlight 'Cheetah') and a stupid return to the Vivaldi topics in 'Ultra-Vivaldi' where they substitute violin for synthesizer and play the main theme accelerating it all the time. Gee, and there I was complaining about lack of gimmickry. Somehow this reminds me of the coda to 'Karn Evil 9', you know. The second side is pseudo-conceptual, a four-song suite that constitutes the very 'phantasmagoria' - a story of ghosts and the occult that has its moments of glory as well as its moments of glut. 'Phantasmagoria' as such (the first track of four) I like; it has a funny boppy poppy melody in the best of music hall traditions; the 'don't ring for a taxi, don't call the policemen' chorus is catchy, isn't it? It should be. 'Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?' is worse, another gimmick consisting of a few minutes of gloopy synthesizer noises and electronically encoded vocals; kudos to the band for fiddling around with electronica, of course, but that's a strictly intellectual, not an emotional, decision of mine. 'Over And Above' is just a bit overlong at eight minutes; I mean, yeah, it tells us the entire life of the ghost (does it?), but the experience of Genesis tells us it's perfectly possible to economically squeeze a huge line of events into a three-minute song if the need arises. My favourite part is definitely the fast 'n' energetic jamming at the end, especially when the draconic wah-wah solo enters and the track falls apart in a shower of redhot electric sparks. And then 'Once A Ghost, Always A Ghost' ends the song on a positively, heh, hilarious note. What's that, Latin influences? A funny and inventive way to go out, somewhat reminiscent of the Stones' 'On With The Show' with its drunken noises in the background. Mumbo-jumbo! That was a boring review, wasn't it? Sorry, I'm a bit ill today and my brains are clogged with infection. In case I missed some particularly shining moment, please excuse me. Oh wait! Did I mention yet how much I love the album cover? Doesn't the luvverly font fully reflect the very nature of Curved Air? Now here's truly a band fit for the English queen. And singing about masturbation, too.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Messy. Incoherent. Falls apart all the time. But then again, it's an entirely different band and they STILL preserve the spirit.Best song: EASY
Track listing: 1) The Purple Speed Queen; 2) Elfin Boy; 3) Metamorphosis; 4) World; 5) Armin; 6) U. H. F.; 7) Two Three Two; 8) Easy.
A 'transitional' record of sorts, it was made in the wake of Curved Air's almost total collapse; Kristina is the sole original member on here, and Mike Wedgewood on bass the only other member to be carried over from Phantasmagoria. Thus, if Air Cut actually suffers from something, it's a lack of cohesion. Influences are all over the place, and all of the band members bar the drummer actively participate in songwriting, even Sonja herself who had only gotten a total minimum of credit for the previous three records. It's no big surprise, then, that the album is a bit inferior to those preceding it; it hardly boasts any unarguable classics of the genre and frankly speaking, it's pretty tough for me to actually select any kind of favourite song.However, it could have been much worse. Obviously, the main goal this version of the band set before themselves was to preserve the original style and direction of the classic Curved Air, and for the most part they succeed. Kristina is as romantic and sexy as ever, both in the 'psychedelic sari' in the inner sleeve photo and in the actual singing. The arrangements are as lush and luxurious as before, with breezy pianos and frantic violins, the latter courtesy of the (in)famous Eddie Jobson, who, by the way, was only 17 at the time. And the band's unabashed theatricality is equally present. In short, all the components of the egg are firmly in place, and it's definitely NOT a rotten one. Besides, it tends to grow on you upon repeated listening... not a lot, though. It's not like these songs were great understated products of a bunch of super-intellectual human minds, you understand. They're just poorly thought out. Rushed, maybe. But the ideas are nice. Sonja predictably (unpredictably?) gets the two best cookies, as far as I'm aware. The acoustic ballad 'Elfin Boy' is no 'Melinda', of course, but the vocals swoon and sway in an entrancing way, and the strange synthesizer pattern that Mr Jobson weaves around the simple acoustic rhythm has something strangely magical about it, don't you think? Earlier they would have used a violin in its place, but it's hi-tech wonders for now, baby! Inventive anyway. The closing mini-epic 'Easy' is also Kristina's, and she goes for a somewhat more upbeat 'Summertime'-like atmosphere - the song is notably jazzy, although it actually goes through several different sections, and it boasts a great energetic punch. When Sonja goes 'you're MANY MANY MILES away from me-e-e-e...', she adds that precious power element that some could actually doubt - it's not often that she explored her 'masculine' emploi on preceding albums, so you could say that she was still growing as a singer (and let me repeat it again and again that I do believe she was at her absolute peak as a singer on Midnight Wire, where both the 'masculine' and the 'feminine' aspects of her voice are explored in even greater depth). Together with the guitarist, Kirby Gregory, Kristina also pens the opening pop-rocker, 'The Purple Speed Queen', probably the album's catchiest number, which in a rather gleeful mood tells the story of a runaway child who becomes a prostitute and an addict and finally dies of an overdose. It's unexceptional but a nice intro and actually fits in with the general style - Curved Air were never the ones to shy away from simpler pop-rockers ('It Happened Today', 'Never Quite The Same', etc.), nor from socially-related themes (see 'Kids To Blame' two albums later). Kirby is also responsible for the all-out rockin' 'U.H.F.', whose main force lies hardly in the rather generic vocal sections but rather in the moody instrumental passages, one of which actually is ripped off from the Beatles' 'I Want You', I can guarantee that one for sure. All in all, Kirby's songwriting leaves something to be desired. Mike Wedgewood contributes two numbers... the lad was really unhappy at that kind of thing, because his next band would be Caravan where he would also only occasionally be able to pen something, all due to Pye Hastings' undisputable hegemony in the band. Here he unexpectedly gets rather mushy with the almost vaudeville-style 'World', saved as usual by an exquisite violin part and Kristina's unbeatable delivery; and he also gets the only male lead vocals on the album in 'Two Three Two', which could be easily the worst track in the entire Curved Air catalog, more of an inept Southern rocker than anything remotely conceivable from these guys, if not for the wonderful guitar break at the end - I was absolutely taken aback when Kirby suddenly started adding all these typically Chuck Berryesque licks to the solo. Okay, guys, you're accessible and all that, but Berry licks? Amazing! Finally, there's the album's magnum opus, 'Metamorphosis', a ten-minute long suite entirely credited to Eddie Jobson. Well, the guy's virtuoso, no doubt about it. He's 17 years old yet he handles the grand piano, organ, synth and electric piano on that one like a real pro. And there's a certain power to the composition as well, a nice progression and... well, I'm not a fan of this stuff because it sounds a wee bit Camel-ish, and I had a large share of Camel already. My usual problem with Camel is that their music is neither depressing nor uplifting; it's stuck somewhere in between and instead of hitting both of the opposite emotional peaks hits neither of them, and the same goes for 'Metamorphosis'. That said, the overall sound is pleasant and not at all meandering as it would be in a randomly selected Yes epic, plus many of the parts are riff-based and there are all kinds of hilarious excourses into ragtime 'n' barroom piano improvisations and stuff, and a funny ABBA-esque vocal section from Sonja. Well, considering that it was written by a 17-year old, and also considering that there's only ONE inimitable Mike Oldfield in this world, this is still nothing short of miraculous. Which doesn't prevent me from pronouncing the final verdict - the album is way too disassembled and the band's aims and goals way too obscure and vague. Given the conditions of its release, that never really seems strange, but maybe it's the only way to explain why Air Cut has so far been actively avoiding CD reissue (I got it packaged as a so-called "LP-R" on a Russian pirate release). Even so, it's an important link between the two main periods of Curved Air's existence and if you're into Curved Air because you're into Sonja Kristina (and you SHOULD be!), feel free to track it down. Oh, I mean, feel UNfree to track it down.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Could have been a classy baroque rock offering, but guess Jobson's piano loops on 'Paris By Night' were just too much for the industry bosses.Best song: SEASONS
Track listing: 1) Exultate Jubilate; 2) Lovechild; 3) Seasons; 4) The Flasher; 5) Joan; 6) The Dancer; 7) The Widow; 8) Paris By Night.
In March 1990 millions of dedicated Curved Air fans all around the world took to the streets and proudly paraded around their native hometowns, villages, settlements, and fur trading posts, carrying huge posters of Sonja Kristina in transparent outfits and slogans that said "EDDIE JOBSON FOR PRESIDENT". Although the mass media were absolutely taken aback by this huge outburst of unbridled feelings, once they got over the shock, the main reason was soon established: it was none other than the long-awaited release of the infamous Lovechild, the second album by the 1973 Curved Air lineup, which was recorded in July '73 but left on the shelves due to creative disagreements and whatnot. Absolutely sweeping away all competition, Lovechild basically annihilated the market and rumours even had it that Michael Jackson was already planning upon acquiring the rights to the entire Curved Air catalogue - the only reason it didn't come through was the fact that they couldn't establish whom these rights actually belonged to in the first place. It was a long time ago, you see.That's one possible imaginary scenario. The other, which is slightly less exciting but a little bit more realistic, is that nobody really gave a toss because the three or four dedicated fans of the band already had the bootlegged tapes under their pillows since '73 and the rest of the world couldn't bring themselves to buy an album with four songs credited to somebody with a name like 'Sonja Kristina' which, in our modern world, is more likely to befit a porn star than a rock singer. (I mean, rock singers usually spell it with a Ch, like Christina Aguillera, don't they?). But hey, if we're gonna make fun of names, I might as well make this a GWAR review or something. In any case, independent of whether you like this record or not or whether you've actually heard it, it's not much to speak of, but it's not a bad thing it was released, either. It is very raw and unstructured and only has four real songs (out of eight tracks), but, while the low points definitely rank from embarrassing to filler-ish to merely okay, the high points are actually higher than anything on Air Cut, and thus both albums get the same rating from me. Creatively, it is also an important link from the "proggy" Curved Air to the "poppy" Curved Air of 1975-76, and helps better understand the band's evolution. Perhaps the most important thing is that all of these four songs are credited solely to Kristina. My guess is that the 'new' Curved Air became totally disinterested in the new project so quickly that they pretty much left it all on poor Sonja's shoulders - and, as it turns out, it wasn't such a bad thing. The worst that ensued was that everything on here that is not by Christina is practically worthless. The "synthonic" arrangement of 'Exultate Jubilate' that opens the album is a funny gimmick, but it's short and once its point is made, it departs from your life forever. Kirby's 'The Flasher' is just a four-minute blues-rock instrumental, with a cool guitar tone for sure, but essentially defining the expression "ear-pleasing mediocre filler", with a very very heavy accent on the word 'filler' - I can't imagine why on earth would a band like that want to put a generic blues-rock instrumental on their record if it weren't for space-filling reasons. The biggest embarrassments, though, are Eddie Jobson's. Well, the one-and-a-half minute sequence of piano arpeggios ('Joan') is not really an embarrassment, but rather a half-assed introduction to the actual song that follows; crediting this as an independent composition and giving it a name was rather ridiculous, I think. The big slump comes with 'Paris By Night', a nearly seven-minute instrumental that essentially consists of two short and relatively simple piano melodies that keep repeating over and over and over until you just turn 'em off - there's hardly a single chord in its later five minutes that hasn't been used in the first two. If you ask me, it's nothing but a major "FUCK OFF" from the man who, just a few months ago, nearly jumped out of his skin to prove, with 'Metamorphosis', that he could create complex symph-rock along with the best of 'em. No wonder the record was rejected by the company - sure, 'Paris By Night' is at least melodic, but its function is quite similar to that of Metal Machine Music, in a way. Granted, it's rather pleasant as background muzak, though. So the real - and only - star of the record is Kristina, who has finally come into her own as a composer and is by now making up songs that totally fit her style: songs that give her plenty of room to display her singing talents. Songs that are lush, heavy on the violins, heavy on romanticism and sensuality, and, unfortunately, not all that heavy on either innovation or catchiness. But fortunately, I am a big fan of this kind of atmosphere, and simply reveling in the abstract beauty of it all is a gas. Nothing here is as memorable as 'It Happened Today' or as grandiose as 'Marie Antoinette', but everything on here is straightahead, uncompromising Kristina-dom, and that's good. The title track is the most "arousing" of the four, with violins and pianos making a perfect passionate counterpoint to Sonja's own vocal melodies, and the minor musical thunderstorm that happens gets just the necessary dose of desperation and ecstasy to elevate it from uninteresting ear-candy. The album's "biggie" is 'Seasons', a little quasi-symphonic piece that, again, features great supporting work from all the band members, especially Kirby with his terrific guitar solo, but is still dominated by Sonja and Sonja alone. Not sure about hooks, although the transition from verse to chorus ('quiet tune...', etc.) is quite an attention-attracting thing, if I may say so. But the atmosphere works perfectly, and the sparseness of arrangement actually works in favour of the band: every instrument is perfectly audible on its own and never threatens to overshadow the number one thing, singing, that is. 'The Dancer' brings in a bit of harp, if I'm not mistaken, and is one of those "ethereal" tracks that highlight Christina's "angelic sexuality". Listening to this, I sort of understand where songs like 'Dance Of Love' off Midnight Wire actually come from. (Best moment: Sonja cooing 'oh, whoah-oh' right before the guitar solo. Insert that cooing into every other chorus and you have a masterpiece of a song). Finally, with 'The Widow' we have a change of pace and a bit of cool barroom boogie to brighten up our day. Final word on the whole thing is: Lovechild does get the classified George Starostin Seal of Approval, with the following reservations: a) never to be played in front of minors who do not need to be exposed to sex-pop way before their time - get them something a bit more decent like all those Lita Ford records instead; b) never to be played as a whole, because the only song in the world that's worse than 'Paris By Night' is the Ghostbusters theme as performed by Limp Bizkit; c) never to be played for prog-rock lovers because of the poppification of prog elements; d) never to be played for pop lovers because of the proggification of pop elements; e) never to be played for rock lovers because of 'The Flasher'. Apart from that, it's a cool little record and I happily award it a 10 out of 15.
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Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Vanessa Mae, eat your heart out! Roll 'em violins!Best song: MARIE ANTOINETTE
Track listing: 1) It Happened Today; 2) Marie Antoinette; 3) Back Street Luv; 4) Propositions; 5) Young Mother; 6) Vivaldi; 7) Everdance.
A brief glimpse of sunshine as the second major incarnation of Curved Air crashes to the ground and splits, and the original lineup briefly comes together again to do a tour and record a live album. This is a transitional and a very short period - all the original members are here except for Robert Martin, who is replaced by Philip Kohn on bass. Perhaps a studio album from the original guys would have been more appropriate at this point, but history knows no ifs, and besides, this live album will totally kick your withered shrumpy progressive butt.I'm pretty sure seeing Curved Air live must have been a blast - all the theatric antics, all the mad violin posturing, all the crazy clothes, and a frantic Sonja Kristina around. Too bad not too many have actually seen them, but at least everybody who missed that chance can hold on to this record. It's not perfect, but then again, neither are Curved Air themselves, and the album is pretty adequate. Three songs each off Air Conditioning and Second Album, one off Phantasmagoria and none off Air Cut - apparently, the original lineup were too snubby to try their hands at 'alien' material. Never mind, there's still enough good material. The biggest attraction, of course, is Kristina. Turns out that when performing live, her emploi was that of a wild furious cat rather than a stern white-clad dove like Annie Haslam, and she almost steals the show from everyone. Not the most shining example of perfectly combining immaculate singing with shrieking, screaming, screeching and bellowing, she still pulls it out mainly by putting all of herself into the performance - like a Janis Joplin of sorts, mayhaps, only in a magical-mystical way. Perhaps this is the true prototype Stevie Nicks could have modelled herself after, except that Stevie's voice (beautiful in its own way) never sounded as powerful and aggressive as Kristina's. The first two songs on the album will blow the top off you if you're used to their studio versions - the grizzly, paranoid yelling on 'It Happened Today' in particular, where the stately desperate majesty of the original is completely shed in favour of a rabid aggressive assault. It takes some time to get used to, but it pays off in the end... a totally new incarnation, and all due to the vocals because the melody and the arrangement remain largely unchanged. Same thing with 'Marie Antoinette' - just listen to Sonja's crescendo through the verses, culminating in a thunderous 'VIVE LA NATION!!' that tears the original to shreds. Not that I'm saying one should discard the originals, either: the powerful live deliveries can't help but lose a significant part of the "barocco refinery" of the originals, and as the guitars and the vocals begin aiming at a harsher rock sound, part of the enthralling mystical aura of yesterday suddenly dissipates. But I guess you have to take these risks if you don't want your show to simply become a sterile replica of the sound of your studio production. And Curved Air sure took these risks. An energetic short rendition of 'Backstreet Luv' follows, after which Sonja yells 'PROPOSITIOOOOONS!' in her best Ozzy Osbourne impersonation (uh, well, maybe not, but I can't think of a better example right now) and the band launches into an extended version of the Air Conditioning number - which originally was just a short rocker but now is transformed into a whole symphony of bizarre keyboard/guitar interplay. Sonja screams damn good too, and Phil Kohn plays some mighty speedy bass runs on there... perhaps he is the best bass player on Earth, and we haven't been suspecting that until today. 'Young Mother', on the other hand, is mainly a violin/keyboard showcase, culminating around the fifth minute with a mind-blowing "explosion of pitch" produced by Way and Monkman at the same time (or so it seems, I can't find a better name for the thing...). Of course, the instrumentalists' tour de force is the blistering nine-minute version of 'Vivaldi' which really showcases Darryl Way for all his worth - I still can't get it how he manages to produce all those astral noises, must have been plugging his violin through a million cunning devices. At times it does sound ear-destructively cacophonic, kinda like Jimmy Page's worst guitar-bowing excesses, but in general, it's just a total triumph of technicality and aggression. And things close on a high note with an equally energetic rendition of 'Everdance' with some of Christina's funniest howling and bleating introducing the song. To tell you the truth, I would have preferred a better setlist - or maybe just cut down some of the extended jams and put stuff like 'Melinda (More Or Less)' or 'Screw' or 'Situations' in their place. Or maybe a double live album wouldn't have hurt, in case there was enough material for a double album. 'Everdance' and 'Young Mother' aren't bad songs, I mean, but they're a bit, uh, smooth sitting beside the more obvious classics. But then again, I guess the main weakness of the album still isn't the song selection but rather the lack of subtle atmospherics which I already mentioned - but then again, hmm, maybe 'weakness' isn't the right word for this. Ah well, the record is simply solid, so bear with this. Beats the hell out of Vanessa Mae for sure.
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Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Poppy 'n' sexy, if you can stand a poppy'n'sexy sound from a former prog band.Best song: DANCE OF LOVE
Track listing: 1) Woman On A One Night Stand; 2) Day Breaks My Heart; 3) The Fool; 4) Pipe Of Dreams; 5) Orange Street Blues; 6) Dance Of Love; 7) Midnight Wire.
Now see here: if you're only ready to get into Curved Air as one of those (in)famous underground progressive bands of the early Seventies, don't even think of this album, or its follow-up, as your starting point. Midnight Wire actually introduces the third radically different line-up of the band, and a major change of stylistics: from the thrilling mystical sound of 'vintage' Curved Air to a far more direct and mainstreamish, rather poppy sound. I was particularly interested in the album, though, because along with Curved Air veterans (Sonja and the newly-returning founding father Darryl Way on violin), it also heralds the band's new drummer - STEWART COPELAND! Yes, the same Stewart Copeland that would go on to form the Police in just two years, although you sure couldn't tell it by the music: Stewart had radically changed and expanded his drumming style by the time of the Police' debut. Here he just sounds like a solid R'n'B drummer, professional and tasteful, but hardly too imaginative or creative within his limited set of tricks. Still, isn't it fun to hear none other than Copeland on an album by a former progressive band?Anyway, first time I sat through this I was definitely underwhelmed - sappy unmemorable sludge, nowhere near as adventurous as the previous albums. But what do you know, the record actually grows on you after a while, until you finally realize that Midnight Wire isn't just an ordinary sentimental record. What they try to construct here is an interesting and, indeed, unique brand of luscious, deeply erotic "dream-pop", based on romantic guitar/violin interplay (where "romantic" doesn't necessarily mean "happy sappy" - there are plenty of passages on here that rock quite heavily, yet without descending into true arena-rock/power-ballad territory) and those irresistable libido-raising vocals from Sonja. Undoubtedly, it was HER creative spirit that transplanted itself into Blondie Harry after Curved Air disbanded. I mean, seriously, is there any male on the planet who could resist the mild seduction of 'Dance Of Love', one of THE sexiest songs ever recorded? If your head doesn't get all dizzy and giddy at Sonja cooing out 'take my body with your soul', mister, you have apparently bought the wrong record to divert you while watching over your lord the Sultan's harem. Not to mention, of course, how darn catchy that vocal melody is, and how well Way's violin solo and Jacques' solo, all performed in that lush barocco way, mix in with the overall thematics of the song. How come it never became a radio staple is a mystery - here's a song that was MADE for polluting (or purifying?) the airwaves. Lush, gentle, deeply sexual, perfectly flowing, not too short or long, the ultimate possible pop single at an epoch where such manneristic, decadence-soaked tunes were such a total scream. And the rest of the songs don't fall too far away, either. On a couple of tracks it almost seems like Kristina wants to be Janis Joplin; particularly on the opener, 'Woman On A One Night Stand', a full-fledged R'n'B number with hyper-expressive vocals and intricate soul-electrifying chord changes that pefectly illustrate the supposed turmoil within the singer/protagonist's soul. It's pretty funny to realize that Janis actually did have a song called 'One Night Stand', recorded with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, pretty similar in mood - but with an entirely different melody at that. Of course, Kristina doesn't possess all the rage and passion of Janis' rant, but she comes pretty close, and you can't deny the power and LUST dripping all over the tune. Elsewhere, they blow their top on slower, relaxed ballads: 'Day Breaks My Heart' is ten times better than your average Mariah Carey call-for-love, mainly because unlike most Mariah Carey, it actually has a well-structured and memorable vocal melody for Sonja to follow. And then there are the punchier tunes, like 'The Fool', built around a pretty violin riff and at times almost developing into a convoluted kind of jig, or 'Orange Street Blues', where Sonja contemplates about having sex with a loser and ultimately rejects that possibility (or so it seems to me). These are always full of energy and are near-perfect power-pop masterpieces. I count just two misfires on the entire record - the instrumental 'Pipe Of Dreams' is pretty and dreamy, all soaked in that very same romantic mood, but without the vocals it doesn't stand a chance of competition; and the title track that closes the album is so long and slow and ultimately boring that it simply ain't worth my time. Maybe the lyrics are good, but essentially it's pure atmosphere, and they trade in sexuality for life philosophy which is certainly NOT a good idea within such an album's context. Seven minutes of ultra-slow tempo is just plain sabotage, too. But otherwise, Midnight Wire is an excellent record - too bad it hardly has a chance to be appreciated by anybody, as "dream-pop" lovers would prefer to solely concentrate on Stevie Nicks and the like, and prog-lovers will definitely shun this record the way prog-lovers shun the 'poppy' records of Genesis or Gentle Giant, even when they're good. Too bad; like I said, this style is essentially unique, and I'm pretty sure this album could have been a big influence for the likes of Blondie, on one hand, and for the likes of Kate Bush, on the other. Yeah, that's it - if you like early Kate Bush records, be sure to track down Midnight Wire. It's certainly a direct predecessor of her style, if not necessarily a direct influence.
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Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9
Poppy, but not sexy any more - fewer hooks and more generic moods, although some of the songs are still excellent.Best song: DESIREE
Track listing: 1) Desiree; 2) Kids To Blame; 3) Broken Lady; 4) Juno; 5) Touch Of Tequila; 6) Moonshine; 7) Heaven (Never Seemed So Far Away); 8) Hot And Bothered; 9) Dazed; [BONUS TRACK:] 10) Baby Please Don't Go.
Hmm. Sounds like they were running out of ideas after all - Airborne is pretty cool as far as the album cover is concerned, but the music itself has lost its sheen almost entirely. Instead of spreading their talents all over those sloppy, delicious slices of "dreampop", Curved Air now try to squeeze their talent inside a more compact three-or-so-minute pop song with a structure, verse/chorus and everything that goes with it, but somehow along the way they forgot to add up a few of those amazing vocal melodies that made Midnight Wire so irresistable. This is just a "pop" album, not a "dreampop", with Sonja's vocals rather restrained and formulaic, Darryl Way's violins shoved mostly into the background, and Stewart Copeland still not displaying even a tenth part of the prolificness he would be showing in just two years' time on the Police' debut.}In fact, they're almost sounding as if they took some cues from ABBA or any other of those miriads of Europop bands that jumped out in the mid-Seventies, but, of course, for a dance-poppy version of Curved Air to compete with such masters of the genre as the Swedish people would be impossible. No wonder this strange "sellout" album was a total commercial bomb, even worse than its predecessor, and the band dispersed soon afterwards. That said, it's hardly a bad album. If we rate "hook force" on a limited scale of 1-2-3, where 1 is total absence and 3 is total genius, Airborne would get a solid 2: the songs are written with the intent of making them distinguishable through certain melodic moves, not with the intent of following a given formula. The nadir of the record, in fact, is the only tune that prog-lovers would probably dig - the ridiculous eleven-minute epic 'Moonshine'. I don't have anything to say about it, as there isn't a single memorable element in the song, just a lot of violin/guitar wanking that goes nowhere, and the verses are so slow, drawn out and hookless that it's totally impossible to concentrate on the number. I get the same feeling I get from listening to a Kansas epic - although, granted, I'd still take Kristina's vocals over those hairy Kansas guys every day of the week. This just goes to show that by 1976, Curved Air were simply not able to do progressive rock. I wouldn't press that as a serious accusation against them, though. Who on Earth could do progressive rock by 1976? Genesis? Okay, Genesis could do progressive rock by 1976, but they couldn't do it by 1977. What would you expect from a 'second-row' prog band, then? Thank God they could still do some excellent pop. Like 'Desiree', for instance. Cool seducing croon from Kristina totally makes the song (if the falsetto on the 'since you were grown enough not to cry' line doesn't get you, I don't know why the hell I'm reviewing the band at all), and the lightweight playful atmosphere is totally in harmony with the album cover. 'Juno' ain't bad either, although Darryl's lyrics are among the dumbest I've ever witnessed - was there an actual point he wanted to state with the song's useless story or was it just an intentional throwaway? The best thing about the song is its driving violin rhythm anyway; Jeff Lynne might have definitely envied that. 'Kids To Blame' is a strange one, one of the band's rare attempts at social critique: raising her voice in anger, Sonja complains about the cops doing unjustice to the young 'uns. Generic, but weird to hear from Curved Air. Other highlights (all minor, but pleasant) would include the boppy 'Touch Of Tequila', a song so otrageously hedonistic, egotistic, simplistic, realistic, pantheistic and chauvinistic that any prog fan would feel himself directly slapped in the face, but I feel seduced by the number's joy that's almost unfaked, so I have no problem, and a similar case could be constructed around 'Hot And Bothered'. Out of the ballads, the closing 'Dazed' is dreadfully sappy (and Kristina certainly sounds like an almost exact clone of the ABBA girls, although she bleats a little more), but I'm still fond of the romantic, excellently constructed coda. That said, I wanna point out that Airborne is still a very unhappy conclusion to Curved Air's legacy - a former 'wonder of the underground' is now reduced to the status of a second-, if not third-rate generic pop band. You could almost swear that had they carried on for a couple more years, they would have certainly caught the 'saturday night fever' and become an equally generic disco outfit - with Sonja's vocal abilities, they would have ripped 'em Bee Gees apart! Oh, oh, well, at least they had the good sense not to do that. They had entirely sacrificed their former identity and came out with results that were too unsuccessful to justify it. Funny that my CD edition ends with a bonus track lifted off a contemporary single, one of their last - namely, their cover of Big Bill Broonzy's 'Baby Please Don't Go' (!). It's the "heaviest" and fastest song on here, and sounds surprisingly well; I wouldn't actually be surprised to find out it was influenced by AC/DC's version of the song, which became widely available to the public at around the same time. Fast, precise, energetic... totally incompatible with the material on Airborne, and somewhat mysterious in that respect. Two minutes and twenty eight seconds.
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