Sunday, 7 April 2019

Curved Air - Air Conditioning (1970)


  

Released November 1970

Curved Air were seen as "progressive rock" pioneers - an amalgam of hard rock guitar and vocals, classically-styled violin and strings, psychedelic drums and ambience and a weakness for instrumental indulgence. They were impossible to categorise to be honest, other than as "prog rock". There is something harder about them, though, something heavier which again make them something of a unique contradiction. This was their debut album and a most unusual, innovative creation it was.

TRACK LISTING

1. It Happened Today
2. Stretch
3. Screw
4. Blind Man
5. Vivaldi
6. Hide And Seek
7. Propositions
8. Rob One
9. Situations
10. Vivaldi (With Cannons)                            

"It Happened Today" kicks off as a chugging, bluesy boogie rock number, with Sonja Kristina doing what she does best with her powerful vocal, before it merges into a reflective, classically-influenced ambient passage featuring Darryl Way's violin. This was the essence of Curved Air - plenty of diverse instrumentation that nobody had really experimented with before, certainly within a conventional hard rock setting. "Stretch" has a firm rocking beat and a Deep Purple "Black Night"-esque riff but also some hints of upbeat folk rock. Once more, it pushes several boundaries for the time. Superb guitar merging with violin and a very prog rock drum sound. "Screw" again features some delicious violin, solid psych-ish drumming and another strong but beguiling vocal.

"Blind Man" has some dreamy, folky hiccuppy vocals over its quirky string backing and gently rhythmic drums. "Vivaldi" is very typical of prog rock sensibilities - showing off their classical bent with some crazed violin while merging it with some rolling rock drums. Personally, I prefer it when Curved Air let Sonja loose to rock, that is not to ignore the virtuosity of parts of this track though. It is inventive and clever, but to me is a tad indulgent, particularly by the end when a discordant electric guitar arrives. Enough.

"Hide And Seek" returns to rock and vocal, with a beguiling, again slightly folky vocal. Despite remastering however, this track in particular is still a bit scratchy and tinny in places. "Propositions" is a very archetypal early seventies prog/psychedelic rocker. It is difficult to describe, but it is instantly recognisable when you hear it. "Rob One" is a beautiful violin, piano and drum instrumental. "Situations" starts plaintively but ends up as a superb slice of rock, with some deliciously buzzy guitar and a big rumbling bass beneath it. "Vivaldi (With Cannons)" adds some sound effects to the violin soloing for a few minutes to end a album that is very much an acquired taste. This remastered version is an improvement, but there will, I feel, always be a few faults in the sound that can never be ironed out. The new, extended version includes the slightly punky "Thinking On The Floor" which is excellent and really should have been on the original album. The bass and wah-wah guitar groove of "What Happens If You Blow Yourself Up?" is really good too. I really like these two tracks. Funnily enough, the alternative takes included of several of the album's tracks are more appealing, to me. "Rob One (Take 2)" is particularly good. The John Peel show live cut of "Propositions" simply crackles with a wonderful vitality. Superb bass on it too. It also merges into some of "What Happens". The version of "Young Mother In Style", introduced by Alan Freeman, but listed as from the John Peel show, is the same one as included on the "Second Album" extras. The other live session cuts are unique to this album, however. The sound quality on them is much better than on the session tracks on the "Second Album" too.

Personally, I prefer the group's second album, titled, originally, "Second Album", but I realise the importance of this one and accept that it needs a few listens.

C+

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