Curved Air

Phantasmagoria

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The sonic caveats which accompany Collector's Choice's other Curved Air reissues remain in force; the historical truth that what sounded timelessly groovy in 1971 is not necessarily so finger-snapping three decades later remains unimpeachable. But still, Phantasmagoria is a fabulous album, the culmination of all that Curved Air promised over the course of its predecessors; the yardstick by which all rock/classical hybrids should be measured. The opening "Marie Antoinette" sets the scene with lovely melody, impassioned vocal and a terrifically understated band performance which complements every syllable uttered by vocalist Sonja Kristina. The bridge into revolution ("the rabble have gone insane") is breathtaking -- history lessons should all sound this good, and the amazing thing is that the album has only just got started. The gentle "Melinda More or Less" is swirling, sweet folky psychedelia, while "Not Quite the Same," a somewhat self-conscious ode to masturbation, disguises its proggy inclinations with a barrelhouse 6/8 rhythm and a genuinely catchy hook. "Ultra-Vivaldi" updates the first album's "Vivaldi" by, apparently, letting the Chipmunks have a go at playing it. And the four-part, side-long title track switches moods, effects, and even genres (jazz, mariachi, and the avant-garde all get a look in) to create an dazzling soundscape which allows every members a moment to shine -- without once stepping into the treacherous swamps of solos and virtuosity. This was the original Curved Air's final album -- by the time the accompanying tour was over, only Kristina and bassist Mike Wedgwood (himself a spanking new arrival) remained to carry on the good work. As farewells go, then, it is magnificent, the band's grandest hour by far. And listening to it all these decades later, one cannot help but wonder how much grander they might have become?

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