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 Curved Air

British Progressive Rock Band

Studio Albums

Air Conditioning (1970)

Second Album (1971)

Phantasmagoria (1972)

 

 

 

Curved Air

Air Conditioning (1970) - 6.5

It Happened Today/Stretch/Screw/Blind Man/Vivaldi/Hide and Seek/
Propositions/Rob One/Situations/Vivaldi (With Cannons)

If you read enough of my reviews, you will realise that progressive early seventies rock is one of my favourite areas. Very often experimentation was to the fore and Curved Air were one of the best. Their first three albums shriek prog rock whilst still maintaining a classical/pop feel borne out of the fact that in Francis Monkman and Darryl Way they had two top musicians who were able to fuse classical and contemporary.

Air Conditionaing had the dubious honour of being one of the first ever vinyl picture disc in the days when those things were important. All the excellent musicianship was underpinned by the almost ethereal vocals of Sonja Kristina.

The instrumentals on this album seem to flood the senses with swirling keyboards and, what at the time was unusual, the electric violin of Way. Curved Air have been accused of at times "trying to be too clever" but I don't agree with this assessment. Their albums never get out of control and there is enough beauty in there to hold them together.

I wouldn't call Air Conditioning ground-breaking but it did stretch the boundaries of prog rock. Rock twists on Vivaldi certainly served the band well and here  we have two examples which soar and climb. Song-wise it's a fairly eclectic mix - some of which would be improved on later. It Happened Today has a unique feel about it and Kristina's lyrics are never short of spot on.

 

Second Album  (1971) - 6

Young Mother/Back Street Luv/Jumbo/You Know/Puppets/Everdance/Bright Summer's Day '68/Piece of Mind

The first track "Young Mother" certainly sets the pace for Curved Air's second album which seems to continue where Air Conditioning left off but perhaps trying to fuse Kristina's vocals with the prog/folk/rock arrangements of the other instruments gives the piece a rather overblown sound.

Thankfully the same can't be said of their most popular single "Back Street Luv" where the spelling of the word Love reeks of 70s prog sensibilities. This album arguably showcases Kristina's vocals better than the first with Jumbo a rather strangely compelling offering.

The main problem with this album, however, is the lack of outrageous instrumental passages that proved such a success on the first and third albums. These almost gave Curved Air's best albums a point of reference and a framework. The most memorable track is arguably Piece of Mind. Sadly it isn't higely memorable from a musical point of view but more from its length of almost 13 minutes and the incorporation of TS Eliot's "The Wasteland."

That doesn't mean to say that this is a bad album, just one that seems to meander and lose its way a little, which is exactly what prevents it from being one of the memorable prog rock albums.

 

Phantasmagoria (1972) - 7

Marie Antoinette/Melinda (More or Less)/Not Quite the Same/Cheetah/
Ultra-Vivaldi/Phantasmagoria/Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?/Over and Above/Once a Ghost, Always a Ghost

Thankfully we return to familiar territory on the band's best album. After the Second Album they returned to the feel and sensibilities of Air Conditioning and managed to improve on it.

The material here is universally strong from the opening take on history in the melodic "chanting revolution" chorus of "Marie Antoinette" through the beauty of the ballad "Melinda (More of Less)" - one of the best songs written by the group.

We are back in familiar territory with the likes of the instrumental "Cheetah" and the extraordinary "Ultra Vivaldi" which I can remember astonishing me in the 1970s, not just for the virtuoso work but also for the way the piece shoots from one speaker to the next - completely mad if you are listening on headphones. The title track is firmly from the prog rock catalogue. There is also plenty of experimentation with sound as well. Overall it's a very balanced and effective album.