Curved Air

Warner Brothers Records, 1970



Curved Air formed in 1970, comprising the charismatic lead singer Sonja Kristina, Darryl Way on electric violin, Francis Monkman (later of supergroup Sky) on lead guitar and keyboards, Robert Martin on bass and the delightfully-named Florian Pilkington-Miksa on drums. It is interesting to note that later band line-ups included Eddie Jobson and Stewart Copeland, amongst other, less readily recognised names.

The lack of stability in personnel contributes, I believe, to an uneven standard of output from the band throughout its history. The band split in 1977, although some music from 1973 was released under the title Lovechild in 1990, and other retrospective releases are available. Despite the name, Sonja Kristina was apparently born in Brentwood, England, although in all other respects, she seems an atypical "Essex Girl".

Airconditioning was the band's first release, and in places, represents their finest work. The album covers a lot of ground, benefiting from a variety of styles and ideas. It unfortunately remained virtually un-played in my music collection for a very long time, for an unusual reason. The release was one of the first vinyl picture-discs, and was consequently a rather heavy piece of plastic. My turntable refused to play it at the regulation 33 rpm, so I ended up buying the CD out of a sense of curiosity - I wanted to know how the damned thing was supposed to sound. That said, the CD I own sounds like a recording of the original picture-disc, rather than a digital re-master - the quality seems rather muddy.

"It Happened Today" is the sort of song that really appeals to me. A lead and bass guitar concoction is presented with an excellent rock beat, overlaid with Kristina's distinctive, unmistakable and somewhat haunting vocals. Said vocals are strangely married to the song, seemingly sung in spite of the tune and the effect is slightly unsettling or jarring, but not unpleasant. Then, with little warning, Way's violin takes over, and we are in a completely different world. Monkman's style of piano, (given a freer rein in Second Album from 1971), makes its appearance, accompanied by some confident bass work by Martin. The second half of this track is pure progressive - I have a snippet of video where this song is performed and Kristina is utterly entrancing (not withstanding the leather hipster trousers that might be considered questionable in this day and age). The melody is extremely pretty.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Stretch" is an odd mixture of electric violin and R&B. Way also provides vocals in support of Kristina, but overall, this is one of the more ordinary tracks on the album. The feel of it is early Fleetwood Mac, but in places, you can hear what later becomes the refrain of "White Punks On Dope" by The Tubes.

"Screw" is a different proposition altogether - melancholy vocals and a violin that gently saws upon your heartstrings. This is a highly textured track, an excellent piece of ensemble playing. The fuzz guitar is spot on, adding depth at the appropriate moments. "All is lost now, it seems that way" goes the chorus, and certainly, there is a sense of loss that can be sensed within this song. Another beautiful melody is showcased here; this is one of the album's best tracks.

A rather folksy diversion leads us to "Blind Man". A little bit quirky, this is a strongly acoustic, vocal and simple tune, but oddly effective. Good for a change of pace. The lyrics, somewhat awkward throughout the entire album, seem particularly idiosyncratic here.

The descriptively entitled "Vivaldi" finishes off Side One of the LP - and provides a chance for Way to demonstrate his prowess on violin. It starts off as a rendition of a part of "The Four Seasons" (that some may call pointless, but being a philistine of little classical music background, I rather enjoy such forays). Part way through, we are treated to the strings equivalent of a 1970's dreaded drum solo. The Four Seasons segment is then repeated, almost apologetically, as if Darryl Way is saying, "Sorry for the excessive self-indulgence, but see, I am a serious violinist!".

"Hide and Seek" is dramatic and urgent, and somehow seems to take itself very seriously somehow. For the most part, this track is the most conventionally constructed piece on the album, until a drum-driven section cuts in part-way. The lead guitar and answering piano at this time represent an interesting instrumental break in an otherwise rather ordinary song.

"Propositions" follows, a fast, rocker of a tune. Kristina's vocals are again rather unsettling. At times, the performance is somewhat reminiscent of "The Doors", with its hypnotic lead guitar and oddly cadenced drum. You half expect Jim Morrison to resume singing at the end of the instrumental section.

The only track penned solely by Robert Martin, "Rob One" is wholly instrumental. It is an introspective, evocative piece, led by a somewhat plaintive violin that holds the attention and makes the listener miss Kristina's vocals not one bit. Gorgeous melody. We never get to experience a "Rob Two", as Ian Eyre replaces Martin in the follow-up Second Album. That is a shame, as "Rob One" is rather good.

"Situations" allows Kristina to dominate again - and once again, we are struck by the oddness of the lyrics. The mellotron adds depth to the song, and value, whilst said lyrics in this case do justice to the best (or worst) of Jon Anderson's (Yes) excesses. Exhibit A, for example - "Soft dream, sun-colour still .". The instrumental break in this track is distinctly psychedelic in nature.

The album is finally tied up by a reprise of "Vivaldi", entitled "Vivaldi With Cannons". This represents a certain amount of self-indulgence on the part of Way (violin) and Monkman (synthesiser), but, what the hell, you can always skip it .

In retrospect, I find that whilst the album is less than the sum of its parts, nevertheless some of those parts are indispensable. There are melodies here that will haunt and delight you, so, if you can find it, grab it.

Rating: B

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