Review Summary: A fantastic progression in style from a pure prog band to a band embracing new ideas such as hard rock elements.
As a pioneering and innovative progressive act from the early 1970's, one would at least expect Curved Air to have been remembered in the form of at least one of their albums for today's generation to hear of through word of mouth similar to Rush and Pink Floyd and even, to some extent, King Crimson. Sadly, however, this is not the case and all that remains of Curved Air is a faint memory from those old enough to remember them to pass down to their children coupled with a few videos on youtube for people to stumble on when searching progressive music. Unfortunately, Curved Air are now all but forgotten and it is a true shame. This band managed to create some of the most unique music of their day with primitive electronics and a huge folk influence on their own brand of progressive rock music that lead to a number of albums with two fighting it out as the best in their discography. The two are Phantasmagoria and Air Cut, with the latter of the two being the better one despite being their first to not even garner a position on the UK charts.
Air Cut was an album that marked a shift into more of a rock-oriented sound as opposed to a purely progressive album. It was clear on this album that they were attempting to widen their audience and explore fresh territories for themselves. Following the departure of three of the members of the band responsible for their previous album, only vocalist/acoustic guitarist Sonja Kristina and bassist Mike Wedgwood remained from the Phantasmagoria lineup. In place of the former members are Kirby on electric guitar, Jim Russell on percussion/drums and Eddie Jobson on all other instruments. This lineup managed on Air Cut to create one of the definitive rock albums of the early 1970's. Whereas Phantasmagoria was all about the beautiful progression, the band's 1973 outing was to show that they could cut it among the rock groups of their day without ever sacrificing any form of the musical beauty and integrity they established with that particular album.
The opening song, Purple Speed Queen, immediately displays the more brash and in-your-face styling that the band chose to shoot for with this album and it really does work well. The thundering bass lines are consistently audible and clunking away, Kirby's guitar is all over the place with some fantastic little fills thrown in and a truly magnificent solo to be found. However it is best to note right here and now that this is not a purely guitar-driven affair, as each instrument has a huge role in being part of the overall package. Sonja's vocals are amazing on this album, and this song shows that she can carry the band forward with her strong voice. She sticks to a middling range, instead of shooting for the absolute highest notes possible, and it really does suit this album. If they could have replaced Sonja for this album I very highly doubt they would have wanted to as there are not a lot of female vocalists that have the ability to carry a rock album forwards but she does it marvelously on here.
Sonja's finest hour comes on the following song, entitled Elfin Boy. This is more in line with their past material, being a purely progressive song. It opens with some amazing vocals from Sonja, and in the background you can hear the instrumental building up. The lyrics are telling a story but you will soon become lost in the instrumental and just hearing the tones of Sonja's voice that the words swiftly become immaterial. This is one of the band's best ever songs with some really amazing electronic effects in the background two thirds of the way through the song and Sonja's acoustic over the top of it with her beautiful vocals completing the song. This is the slowest and most thought-provoking song on the album but is also by far the best on here and probably the best thing they have ever done.
This album is also home to two epics, both of them more in line with the progressive sound the band had achieved on their past four albums. They are Metamorphosis and UHF. The former has some fantastic military drum beats and frenzied piano work to open it up before transitioning into an amazing rock section with the piano being consistently fantastic throughout. It then calms down a little before picking up for a thrilling conclusion. UHF kicks off with a brilliant guitar solo that never fails to astound whoever listens to it before moving through various bouncy progressions, that sound like a band that are genuinely having fun playing the music they play instead of just going through the motions for their music. Out of all the songs on the album this one is the most in line with what they have done before and is sheer incredible all the way through despite its nine minutes running time. Sonja's vocals during the piano and violin section two thirds of the way through this song sticks out as the most emotional and probably the best section of the album as she absolutely pours her soul into her voice and creates a vocal performance that destroys all in its path.
Unfortunately this album is home to a little filler, including the jazzy song World. Despite clocking in at a mere ninety seven seconds, this really does disrupt the flow of the album and does not feel at home on the album. It shows off some superb guitar work from Kirby but other than that has no place on the album. Two Thee Two is the one song where Sonja does not take the vocal position, instead being taken by bassist Wedgwood and he does not have anywhere near as strong a voice as she does. It is not quite as bad as World but definitely lacks the power of the rest of the album. Despite the fact it is a little bland, the solo really is a moment to marvel at and stands out as my favorite moment on the album. Kirby really is a talented guitarist, laying down consistently good solos and fills throughout and this is his finest hour.
Overall, this is definitely a great album and a brave move into different territory for the band but they could not have pulled it off any better. Aside from World and the boring Two Thee Two, this release is chock full of incredible songs that pack so much emotion and genuine energy into them that it is impossible to not be amazed by it. Sonja's vocals and Kirby's guitar work are the two highlights of this album but each member of the band is at the top of their game on here and recorded a brilliant slab of prog/rock.