Esoteric Records, a Cherry Red Records label, have released a new box set devoted to prog rockers Curved Air. The box set, The Albums 1970-1973, is what it sounds like: it’s a set consisting of the band’s first four albums. As per usual with these reissues from Cherry Red, the albums are all remastered and housed in a clamshell box. The Albums is an impressive set- as it boasts four all-around great albums.
A Little History
As with many of the artists released on Cherry Red, Curved Air aren’t a worldwide known name. Curved Air were formed around 1969 in the UK as a five-piece band. In their career, the band would go through many line up changes- with the lone consistent member being singer Sonja Kristina. If the band had any connection to a more popular band/artist, future Police drummer Stewart Copeland was in Curved Air for a few years. Not only was Copeland a member of the band but he was also Kristina’s husband, with Copeland being the father to their two sons. However, Copeland is not on any of these four albums presented there. This set covers the band’s history during their original run, prior to their split in 1973- although the band has reformed on/off over the years. For each album, I’ll mention some of the other musicians that have been in the band but overall- one could argue that Sonja Kristina is Curved Air.
This Box Set
While this is a new release from Cherry Red and Esoteric, this isn’t the first time that they’ve reissued the Curved Air albums. These first four studio albums were all given two-disc deluxe edition releases about three years ago- with the second discs consisting of outtakes and B-sides. It seems that with this set, those remasters have all been gathered together in one big set- sans the seconds discs.
Air Conditioning (1970)
Air Conditioning is a strong first effort from the band. Released in 1970, the band were already concocting splendid prog rock tunes- with a classic element in them. Combined with the psychedelic rock of the West Coast, Curved Air had a unique sound right from the star. Guitarist/keyboardist Francis Monkman and violinist Darryl Way stand out the most here. All throughout the album, the songs are dominated by droning guitars riff and lively violin playing. Sonja Kristina’s heavenly vocals shine throughout the album and overall- this just might be my favorite album in the set.
Highlights: It Happened Today, Blind Man, Vivaldi, Rob One, Hide and Seek, Situations
Second Album (1971)
By the time the band made their sophomore effort, the band was slowly beginning to splinter as far as musical direction was concerned. Whereas the debut had mostly Monkman/Way compositions, the band ended up having the two main songwriters take up each side of the album- with some help from Kristina here and there. Even with this division, Second Album still manages to be a very diverse set of tunes. It’s a nice mix of psychedelic jams, blues-based rockers, progressive folk and experimental epics. While not as consistent as the debut, this is a fine album.
Highlights: Back Street Luv, Young Mother, Puppets, Piece of Mind
Similar to Second Album, Phantasmagoria had another division in songs between Monkman and Way. However unlike Second Album, the two sides aren’t as diverse. For Phantasmagoria, the album has a cohesive mix of prog and psychedelic rock- with almost all of the songs flowing nicely into each other. There’s some experimentation here and there with some of Monkman’s tunes- especially the ones that utilize in synthesizers. For this album, the band went all out in inviting outside musicians for the more orchestral tunes- which probably explains the cohesion and flow of the music. Overall, another good album.
Highlights: Marie Antionette, Melinda (More or Less), Cheetah, Phantasmagoria, Once A Ghost Always a Ghost
Air Cut (1973)
Despite the departures of Monkman, Way and original drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa- Sonja Kristina and then bassist Mike Ridgewood decided to keep the band going. Even though Kristina is the lone original member on this album, Air Cut still manages to be a great album. In place of Monkman and Way, Kristina managed to recruit a 19-year-old Eddie Jobson and 20-year-old guitarist Kirby Gregory. With the youth of this new line up, Air Cut is a more guitar rock oriented album than the first three. This is nothing bad, mind you. It’s just that’s it’s slightly heavier than the band’s other work. For a band that had a near-complete makeover, it’s amazing that Air Cut turned out the way it did.
Highlights: The Purple Acid Queen, Metamorphosis, UHF, Easy
Simply put, The Albums is an impressive release from Cherry Red Records. Along with this music, the set comes with a 47 page booklet filled with liner notes written by journalist Malcolm Dome on each album. As mentioned before, these albums have been reissued before so it seems that all of Dome’s liner notes from those reissues have been combined for this box set. The liner notes give wonderful insight, given Dome was able to interview Sonja Kristina, Francis Monkman, Darryl Way and various other members of the band. With there being little to no books about the band, this booklet is the closest thing to that. If you’re interested in exploring the career of Curved Air, this set is the perfect introduction.
I'm a writer/journalist with a passion for music and pop culture. Having graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2014, I've been looking for a platform in which I can share my passions. Since 2009, I've been posting to my own blog- The Walrus' Music Blog- via Blogger. I'm also the author of two self-published books, "The Camp: Stories from the Summer" and "The College: Stories from King's." Together, the two books cover the story of my life from 2004 to 2014. I've been lucky enough to interview several of my favorite musicians over the years and go to concerts from time to time. I'm also very devoted to the CBS reality TV show Survivor, which I started watching in 2002 when its fourth season started. I currently live in New Jersey.