29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Progressive, jazzy & breathtaking...,
This review is from: Phantasmagoria (Audio CD)
Curved Air's third album, "Phantasmagoria" was released in April, 1972 and immediately reached the Top 20 in the British album charts. The band had added a new member, bassist Mike Wedgwood, earlier in the year. An outstanding player and vocalist, his impact on the band was immediate, as he took Francis and Darryl's intricately scored bass parts and made them his own.
Following a telling pattern established on the "Second Album," "Phantasmagoria" is divided between Darryl Way/Sonja Kristina compositions on side one and those of Francis Monkman on side two. Less than three years into their recording career, differences in musical direction were beginning to seriously fragment the band. Yet this album was their strongest unified musical statement to date.
"Marie Antoinette," one of the band's best-loved songs, leads off side one of the original long- player. A stunning tale of greed and bloodthirsty revenge during the French Revolution, the track became an instant live favorite.
"Melinda (More or Less)" is a lovely, melancholy ballad featuring Sonja's acoustic guitar work. A solo composition, it was written for an acquaintance from her college days, who was caught in a vicious circle of methadrine and mandrax.
Darryl and Sonja's "Not Quite the Same" is a witty, slightly sordid tale of two wankers finding each other, set to a 6/8 beat. It's absolutely hysterical.
The instrumental "Cheetah" is perhaps Darryl's finest moment on the album. It explodes with an impossibly fast violin phrase, which seques into a rather ominous display of nearly atonal minor-key virtuosity. And of course, Doris the Cheetah growls the final note.
"Ultra-Vivaldi" is Francis Monkman's synthesiser tribute to Vivaldi, switched to fast-forward. It has to be heard to be believed.
The four-part "Phantasmagoria" suite occupies the original side two. It was virtually all composed by Francis Monkman. The title track is a whirlwind of organ and violin, with appropriately spooky lyrics and a striking bass line.
To record the second section, "Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway," Francis linked his VCS3 synth to Peter Zinovieff's PDP 8/L computer. Sonja recited a section of Carroll's poem and the computer processed her voice into this atmospheric, eerie piece.
It leads directly into "Over and Above," easily the most complex and daunting piece to be recorded by the band. Fusion meets Lionel Hampton meets 12/8 time signatures in this extraordinary progressive showcase. Synthesizers and horns duel with vibes and violins as Sonja relates a lovely story of a soul in search of space. Florian Pilkington-Miksa punctuates magnificently.
"Once a Ghost, Always a Ghost" is the final piece of the "Phantasmagoria" puzzle. Sounding for all the world like a mariachi jazz band - if you can imagine such a thing - the group presents a "ghoul's cocktail party," ending with the memorable line, "Head in arm and hand in hand, we'll haunt the seven seas." Aaa-chooo!