[Review] Curved Air: Phantasmagoria (1972)

The final album from the original Curved Air lineup features a phantastic lineup of lost heads, lost souls and plenty of ghosts.

Kronomyth 3.0: Phantastic phinish.

The core lineup of Curved Air gave up the ghost after three albums, leaving behind some of the most ambitious progressive rock of its day. Phantasmagoria follows the format of Second Album, with side one showcasing the excellent songwriting of Darryl Way and Sonja Kristina Linwood and side two dedicated to Francis Monkman’s fascinating experiments. Highlights this time include the grandiose “Marie Antoinette,” the darkly humorous “Not Quite The Same” and all of the spectral, eclectic second side from Monkman.

Mike Wedgwood marks the third bass player in three albums, a sign of some instability in the band, but the real issue seems to be the creative divide between Monkman and Way. Monkman in particular seems a bit of a mad creature, virtually tossing the electric guitar from the equation (a shame) in favor of computers and vibes (courtesy of Frank Ricotti). Listening to the music of Curved Air, you have the sense they were living on borrowed time, furiously fitting new pieces and players into the puzzle in search of the perfect sound (here it’s a brass section). Phantasmagoria often strikes upon perfection, much in the same way that Genesis (“Not Quite The Same”) and Gentle Giant (“Phantasmagoria”) did in the mid 70s. Also featured here is the first song completely credited to Linwood, “Melinda (More Or Less),” which displays her folksy roots to fine effect.

When the original Curved Air dissipated, prog lost one of its brightest champions. Their music is adventurous, intelligent and sensitive in the sense that Linwood has sympathy for the characters she sings about, whether it’s an onanistic outsider or a lost ghost. The first side of Phantasmagoria starts out remarkably strong and fizzles slightly as the instrumental pyrotechnics take over (“Cheetah,” “Ultra Vivaldi”). Side two functions as a miniature concept album about ghosts, with Monkman achieving sublime heights on “Over And Above.” Unfortunately, while their music was a near-perfect marriage of classical and rock, the union itself was apparently coming apart at the seams, with Way, Monkman and Linwood going their separate ways after Phantasmagoria.

Original LP Version

A1. Marie Antoinette (Darryl Way/Sonja Kristina Linwood) (6:20)
A2. Melinda (More Or Less) (Sonja Kristina Linwood) (3:25)
A3. Not Quite The Same (Darryl Way/Sonja Kristina Linwood) (3:44)
A4. Cheetah (Darryl Way) (3:33)
A5. Ultra Vivaldi (Darryl Way/Francis Monkman) (2:22)
B1. Phantasmagoria (Francis Monkman) (3:15)
B2. Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway (Francis Monkman) (3:24)
B3. Over And Above (Francis Monkman) (8:36)
B4. Once A Ghost, Always A Ghost (Francis Monkman/Sonja Kristina Linwood) (4:25)

The Players

Sonja Kristina (vocals, acoustic guitar), Francis Monkman (electric piano, guitar, harpsichord, piano, synthesizer, organ, tape editing, Synthi 100 synthesizer, PDP 8/L computer, tubular bells, gong, assorted percussion), Florian Pilkington-Miksa (drums, assorted percussion), Darryl Way (violin, piano, synthesizers, tubular bells, melon), Mike Wedgwood (bass guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar, assorted percussion) with Jean Akers (assorted percussion, hooters, noises on B4), Colin Caldwell (assorted percussion, hooters, noises on B4), Robert Carvell (tape editing on B2), Paul Cosh (trumpet on A3/B3/B4), Doris the Cheetah (A4), Alan Gout (trombone on A3/B3), Mal Linwood-Ross (assorted percussion, hooters, noises on B4), George Parnaby (trumpet on A3/B4), David Purser (trombone on A3/B3), Chris Pyne (trombone on A3), Frank Ricotti (vibes, xylophone, congas on B3/B4), Steve Saunders (trombone on A3/B3), Crispian Steel-Perkins (trumpet on A3/B3), Annie Stewart (flute on A2), Jim Watson (trumpet on A3/B3/B4). Produced by Curved Air & Colin Caldwell; engineered by Colin Caldwell.

The Pictures

Art direction by Richard Rockwood. Illustration by John Gorham.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1972 in the UK (Warner Bros., K 46158), the US and Israel (Warner Bros., BS 2628), Germany (Warner Bros. WB 46 158) and Japan (Warner Bros., P-8226W) with lyrics insert; reached #20 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc on April 25, 1991 in Japan (Warner Bros., WPCP 4224).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 2000 in the US (Collectors Choice).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (Warner Bros., WPCR-12550).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 2011 in Germany (Repertoire, REPUK 1139).

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