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Curved Air - Retrospective Anthology 1970-2009

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 3 / 11 / 2010

Curved Air - Retrospective Anthology 1970-2009
Label: Repertoire Records
Format: CD X2


Excellent and carefully thought-out and packaged double compilation from long-standing British progressive rock group, Curved Air

Firstly congratulations to Repertoire for the vast improvements they have made to their catalogue of reissued CDs over the last few years. During the labels initial years their CDs were shoddily packaged and re-mastered. But the company have really made a lot of progress over the years. Just look and hear the difference between their original re-issue of Nirvana’s ‘Local Anaesthetic’ as part of their Vertigo program in 1990 and their 2008 digi-pak issue. Fewer sleeve notes for sure but the sound is so much better. I’m still not convinced that Repertoire’s 2008 issue of The Zombies ‘Odessey & Oracle’ is an improvement on the Ace one, but at least a lot of care has gone into that particular release. So it’s nice to see that this compilation of some of Curved Air’s best work has been carefully thought-out and that it sounds excellent. Although still working and recording which confirms that the band are far from a spent force, it’s the music that is featured across these two CDs that they are best remembered for. Back in the sixties and seventies Thursday nights meant just one thing and that was 'Top Of The Pops'. For boys of a certain age back then it wasn’t just the music that stayed in the memory. Who can forget the sight of Marsha Hunt singing ‘Walk On Gilded Splinters’? Then a couple of years later the sight of Sonja Kristina leading Curved Air through their only single chart hit ‘Back Street Luv’? Wonderful stuff. Memories get blurred of course, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that Curved Air troubled the charts, which were much more important back then in the bands early 70s heyday, more than they actually did. ‘Back Street Luv’ reached a healthy number four but that was their only appearance in the singles chart. Of course being lumped in with all the so-called progressive bands meant that the group probably didn’t care so much about a singles chart-placing anyway. They were more of an albums band and certainly a band who had to be seen live. The band’s first album, ‘Air Conditioning’, could well have lost a few potential fans due to the hype surrounding it being issued as a picture disc which was something of a rarity in those days. But it managed their best album chart placing out of the three albums which the band got positions for. To be fair the band, or maybe their record company, didn’t exactly make issuing singles their first priority despite the success of ‘Back Street Luv’ and the fact that the band did have other songs that could have dented the singles chart. The band’s sound on those earlier albums was dominated by violinist Darryl Way. The first CD is made up of tracks from the first three albums, ‘Air Conditioning’ (1970), ‘Second Album’(1971) and ‘Phantasmagoria’(1972) and it’s good to have what really amounts to the best, or at least the most interesting selections, of those albums together on one CD. All the tracks featured across these two CDs have been selected by Sonja Kristina so we get a pretty good picture of what the band were trying to achieve. Trying to blend rock and elements of classical music is something that many bands and artists have done through the years. It’s not always been successful and the advent of punk was meant to blow all this stuff out of the water for good. Maybe some bands needed the short, sharp shock that punk rock provided to make them understand that what amounted, a lot of the time, to long, tuneless jams might have been rewarding for the band playing it but it bored the audience a lot of the time. Curved Air always seemed to be a slight distance apart from the other ‘progressive’/serious bands of that period. Even on fairly lengthy songs like ‘Young Mother’ from 'Second Album' the band never lost their way. As much as the band don’t deserve to be lumped in with all the other progressive bands of that era in some ways they had a bigger claim to the name progressive than most bands, by taking elements of rock and classical music and blending in electronics too they were indeed pushing into new territories and moving music into undiscovered areas. Without wishing to take anything away from the guys in the band for many of us one of the major attractions of Curved Air was Sonja Kristina. It was unusual for a band playing this type of music to have a female lead vocalist and when that vocalist was not only attractive but had one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in rock music at the time and could hold an audience spell-bound it was obvious that all eyes would be focused on Sonja. Hearing these songs again now, some forty years later, it’s amazing how fresh they sound and how well the whole band play together. This compilation gives us a chance to appreciate just what an excellent band Curved Air was. Francis Monkman’s guitar and keyboard playing are particularly impressive. These two CDs cover, apart from the first three albums already mentioned, the following; ‘Air Cut’ (1972), 'Live', ‘Love Child’ (1975), ‘Midnight Wire’ (all 1975), ‘Airborne’ (1976), and three tracks Sonja cut as MASK, her multi-media project with Marvin Ayres. There’s always been a folksy element to Sonja’s work as songs like ‘Elfin Boy’ from ‘Air Cut’ display and once again it makes you wonder if Curved Air were slightly ahead of their time and misunderstood by some. Acid-folk didn’t really mix with most prog groups but Sonja and the guys could jump from one to the other with ease it seems. With excellent and informative notes by Chris Welch and what amounts to a mini-interview with Sonja this is an outstanding reissue. The sound is superb, the best I’ve heard on some of these songs, admittedly that’s not so hard as how many of us bought or heard that first album on picture disc only to be let-down by the dreadful sound the picture disc produced. The sound Repertoire has produced here really is the best so far. An exceptional package overall then, a chance for older fans to upgrade their old vinyl or CDs and proof for those yet to hear Curved Air that all bands that were labelled progressive weren’t boring or over-indulgent. A real contender for compilation of the year.

Track Listing:-
1 It Happened Today
2 Screw
3 Blind Man
4 Hide And Seek
5 Rob One
6 Young Mother
7 Back Street Luv
8 Jumbo
9 Puppets
10 Piece Of Mind
11 Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?
12 Melinda (More Or Less)
13 Over And Above
14 The Purple Speed Queen
15 Elfin Boy
16 Metamorphosis
17 Easy
18 The Dancer
19 Dance Of Love
20 Love Child
21 Woman On A One Night Stand
22 Desiree
23 Broken Lady
24 Marie Antoinette
25 Vivaldi
26 Lambent Spire
27 Space In Between
28 Beloved

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