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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Curved Air

Phantasmagoria

Review by Steve Alspach

Curved Air was an English band with a lot of interesting little quirks. It's where Eddie Jobson and Stewart Copeland both got their starts, and it's the band that came out with the first picture disc (on its debut album, "Air Conditioning" - they should have spent the time and money cleaning up the sound of the album). The band's early days were highlighted by the songs multi-instrumentalist Francis Monkman and violinist Darryl Way. This album, the band's third, shows this creative outfit at its peak. The personnel for this album was: Sonja Linwood, vocals and acoustic guitar; Darryl Way, violin; Francis Monkman, piano, electric guitar, and synthesizer; Mike Wedgwood, bass; and Florian Pilkington-Miksa, drums and percussion.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Marie Antoinette
This first song gets the album off to a good start. It is straight forward in the verses, but then the band goes into a lengthy 12/8 bridge in the middle before settling back to the verse structure.
Melinda (More Or Less)
Linwood's acoustic guitar complements Monkman's harpsichord beautifully on this number. The use of violin and flutes adds to the baroque flavor of this piece.
Not Quite The Same
The lyrics are quite twisted - a young man in a futile search for love, "Quite amusing himself, while abusing himself." The breezy 6/8 feel adds to the wry humor. A brass section figures prominently in the introduction and coda.
Cheetah
Rosin up that bow! This instrumental features Way in rapid-fire mode during the song. He then slows down the pace a bit, but picks it up again towards the end. A cheetah's roar abruptly ends the piece.
Ultra Vivaldi
Monkman plays the theme from "Vivaldi", a piece from Air Conditioning, on the VCS3 synthesizer. The piece gets faster and faster and spins out of control until it finally "flatlines."
Phantasmagoria,
This track introduces a four-song suite that made up side two of the album. (Phantasmagoria, like its predecessor, Second Album, featured compositions of Way and Linwood on side one and Monkman's contributions on side two). This tune has a relaxed rhythm and a lightly humorous feel in the lyrics ("The time has come to wonder, Who could be the owner of that, Cold, clammy hand that's exploring the end of the bed"). But, whatever the spirit may be, don't be afraid. In fact, just tell it "Take it from me that you need all the friends you can get."
Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway
Sonja Linwood's vocals are filtered through a VCS3 synthesizer and computer. Snippets of a Lewis Carroll poem and the line "And you keep looking over your shoulder to see if I'm there" are repeated in this free piece.
Over And Above
The drumming of Pilkington-Miksa highlights this high-energy romp. Mike Wedgewood's bass adds sharp counterpoint in places, brass arrangements punctuate the piece, and xylophone (always a good instrument to invoke ghosts and skeletons) and vibraphone are featured. Monkman also gets a good, floating synthesizer solo towards the end.
Once A Ghost, Always A Ghost
A playful ending to this suite, this pseudo-mariachi piece has the band in a light mood. Party sounds are heard in the background as the ghosts revel in their ghoulish plans - "Head in arm and hand in hand, we'll haunt the seven seas."
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