Anxious Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


It is sad that a band like Garbage (with no offense to the band's talented members and the quality music that they make) has gained such acclaim and popularity for its 'unique and seminal' brand of rock music, when much before Garbage was even formed, a band named Curve had introduced to the world the same sound, and failed to catch substantial attention of critics and the public alike, despite its musical superiority to Garbage. As a matter of fact, during the time Cuckoo was released, Butch Vig from Garbage had just finished producing one of the finest grunge albums of the nineties (Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dreams), after having basked under the spotlight for the gargantuan success of his earlier collaboration -- with Nirvana, to produce one the most influential albums of all time ( Nevermind): Garbage was nowhere in sight.

In the early nineties, grunge was big. "Electronica-rock," which is "the" music of the present times, was still in the nascent stage. Such was the time, when the Halliday / Garcia duo of Curve released my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Cuckoo. With the underground music-scene teeming with grunge bands, an electronica-rock album like Cuckoo was out of place, and ahead of the times. What is even more unique about this band and this album is the strong female presence, in the form of Toni Halliday. With her beautiful vocals -- angry yet forgiving -- in the midst of loud layered distortion and winning the battle over the synthesized melodic cacophony, Toni and her band-mate Dean Garcia can be said as the harbingers of the "feminist-industrial" sound, which is now the style of music for a number of female-led rock bands.

Leave alone the argument of whether Curve was ahead of its time or not, as an album, Cuckoo excels. Not in accordance with its hard-hitting first single "Missing Link," which is probably the only actual hard rock song of the album, the rest of Cuckoo is sophisticated, melodious and layered. With live drums used sparingly (to be precise, on just three songs), the album is full of interesting drum-scapes, supported by conspicuously groovy bass-lines. The layered guitars have a lush "shoegazer" effect, which suit perfectly to Toni Halliday's smooth and melodic vocals, and her laidback gothic style.

The lyrics are quite smart in a lot of places. In the rather industrial "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," Toni wraps up the whole song in one line: "We won't be happy till we kill each other." Or, in "Turkey Crossing," the words, "All my traits are charming / I know you know that / they live beyond their means / you might consider that a failure / I am finished with you, please be finished with me" are sung bluntly, giving an added lyrical effect to the textured guitar work of the song. Of course there is an appreciable "feminine" presence in the lyrics: "My mind was bigger than the world, my choice was being born a girl…I understand when your patience deserts you…I think I've loved but I am not sure / can someone tell me what I'm here for?" captures Toni in a woebegone and somber tone, as she ends Cuckoo with the touching and sensitive title song.

For its brilliant production (the album is primarily produced by the industrial guru, Flood, who has worked with the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins and U2, assisted by Alan Moulder), its smart lyrics, and its mesmerizing singing performance, Cuckoo is definitely one of the best albums of the nineties. Add to all this, its seminal sound, and you get what is called a "must buy."

Rating: A

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© 2004 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Anxious Records, and is used for informational purposes only.