Curved Air 2014
In search of a guiding light, British art-rock veterans go for a modern shine and lose their rainbow in the dark.
“They wait like ghosts,” admits “Time Games,” the second song here, and theirs always were strange propositions, but CURVED AIR‘s navigation towards “North Star” has been a particularly crooked one. The group ceased to exist in 1976, were briefly back in 1990 and cut new versions of their classics on 2008’s “Reborn” that marked their return yet somehow doesn’t count as an album per se unlike this one. Two years on after "Live Atmosphere" which showed a revitalized ensemble at the top of their game, the studio follow-up to 1976’s “Airborne” sees the quintet casting their collective glance both back and forth, as only a half of its fourteen tracks are actually fresh offerings, while the rest zigzags between the reinvention of the band’s old material and covers, whereas their previous borrowing experience had been limited to blues staple “Baby, Please Don’t Go” from the AIR’s pre-breakup single.
In fact, there was another single, “We’re Only Human” that Sonja Kristina and Darryl Way put out in 1984’s under the band’s name, which, in its acceptance of mortality, throws a bridge to this record’s opener “Stay Human” whose power chords proclaim the band’s proud poise, although Sonja’s melodramatic vocals rein in the voiceless flight – so tight in the crosshairs of Robert Norton’s organ, often adopting a brass sound, and Kirby Gregory’s guitar. The latter, returning to the fold after a four-decade leave, sets frenzy in the instrumental “Spider” and turns the gentle drift of tellingly titled “Interplay” into a fine piece of rock at the end, yet his broad strokes across Florian Pilkington-Miksa’s drum-march struggle to elevate the stately abstract flow of “Images And Signs” where Paul Sax’s violin shines. Also slightly amorphous, “Magnetism” hangs more on the singer’s individual experimentalism than on a jazzed-up collective effort, as does ethereal closer “Across The Universe,” while the instrumentalists endow “Colder Than A Rose In Snow,” reprized from Kristina’s solo debut, with a crystalline glow.
Still, for all their sensuality SNOW PATROL’s “Chasing Cars” as well as “Spirits In The Material World” by THE POLICE, a band that another CURVED AIR alumnus, Stewart Copeland, co-founded, feel rather misplaced here, despite its artful grandiosity that lends some awkward skank to “Old Town News” and sharpens its country edge and rap interjections. So much for prog paragons who dust off the emotive glory of “Situations” with another folk spin and give a piano-twinkling twist to the delicate “Puppets” and the sway to “Young Mother”- originally on the group’s “Second Album” – that, bereft of youthful exuberance and bearing the stamp of maturity, shimmer like a titular celestial body. It could have burned even brighter, had the band slimmed it all down from the whopping 75 minutes where the veterans try to reconcile their past with the future ghosts, and plain sailing it isn’t.