It’s not easy being several bands at once. But Curved Air seemed to be attempting it on their 1970 debut album Air Conditioning, reissued here along with the three other studio sets that followed it.
Such eclecticism would put them firmly in the prog firmament, but their debut suggests that sticking to any one sonic identity held no interest for them. The gnarly post-psychedelia of It Happened Today also hints at singer-songwriterish fare in its easy-going piano backing, even as Francis Monkman’s hyperactive guitar licks suggest he’s desperate to show us his skills.
In the same song, violinist Darryl Way makes his mark before his fiddle decorates the folk-rock boogie of Stretch. Elsewhere he gets full rein on the seven-minute classical-rock fantasy Vivaldi, which ends up crashing and burning amid an avant-noise cacophony. The symphonic flower-pop of Screw is a thing of beguiling beauty as Sonja Kristina’s charismatic vocals continue to captivate.
By 1971’s Second Album she’d helped them raise their profile considerably on a similarly diverse collection, kicked into gear with the sweetly keyboard-garlanded trip of Young Mother and the faintly foreboding hit single Back Street Luv.
But then we lurch from the contrast of the Lloyd Webber-esque torch song Jumbo to the 12-minute Piece Of Mind, which bows out with jazzy time signatures battling against symphonic swells, freewheeling synth spirals and a quacking duck.
Phantasmagoria (1972) put Kristina front and centre even more noticeably at first, with Marie Antionette and Melinda (More Or Less) reeling us in with fey myths and legends, but Way and Monkman still had their heads. Not everyone will be seduced by the dizzy, eight-minute jazz-rock maelstrom of Over And Above, but either side of it are tighter tracks.
As the extensive sleeve-notes by Classic Rock’s Malcolm Dome explain, by 1973’s final album Air Cut Monkman and Way had departed, and the band focused their sound on broader rock strokes, such as the feisty Purple Speed Queen, the Zep-ish riffage of U.H.F. and the folky paean Elfin Boy.
Metamorphosis, full of baroque piano passages, keeps up the experimental side, but overall, even with former Roxy Music man Eddie Jobson in the line-up, they don’t display the same magnetic mood swings that made the original line-up so compelling.