Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Does anyone remember....... Curve?


Gather round, and let me tell you a tale. In the early 90s, from the ashes of the shoegaze scene there emerged a band so original and inspiring that they still haven't been bettered today. The name of that band was Curve, and in their psychedelic electronica-meets-shoegaze-with-a-little-bit-of-grunge-in-the-mix attitude they created a sound that is still striking even today. I've decided to write about them because I saw a review that said SVIIB's second album wasn't anything new for anyone that remembered Curve. Well, I do remember Curve, and I suppose that's true to some extent, but Curve were always way darker, closer to the 'dark ambient' of Massive Attack's Mezzanine than the dream-pop of Lush. Also, let's not forget that on the Ten Little Girls EP they wrote a track that has what is possibly the only instance of rapping on a shoegazing record (to my knowledge).

So if Curve were so good, then why hasn't anyone heard of them? Good question. They released four albums on a major label- Doppelganger, Cuckoo, Come Clean, and Gift, as well as two download compilations and a number of EPs. More than this, if you listen to their most successful (and best) album, Come Clean, you'll hear a number of tracks that could- and did- become radio favourites, or even club tunes: 'Coming up Roses', 'Something Familiar', or 'Killer Baby', for instance, whilst I've heard singles 'Hell Above Water' from Gift and 'Chinese Burn', the lead single from Come Clean on Top Gear

What happened then? Garbage. Garbage happened. 

Every time I try and introduce Curve to a friend, they usually take one listen, scrunch up their nose and say words to the effect of 'kind of sounds like Garbage...' and that's that. There's a reason for this. Butch Vig, the driving force behind Garbage had worked with Curve and seen a gap in the market for a more stripped-down, post-grunge slash electronic version of their sound. I'm usually pretty generous on imitation leading to creation, but in this case, it's simple: Garbage ripped Curve off, and fucked them over. How? Let me explain. Garbage's more simple arrangements took Curve off the playlists, jumbled up people's sense of which band came first, and when the inevitable backlash came against Garbage's platinum-selling debut, Curve got buried completely, while Garbage were big enough to weather the storm. 

It's just a case of bad luck really; with the right timing, and backing, Curve could have been as big, but they remained the perennial outsiders, despite their musings increasingly becoming more mainstream-acceptable dream pop. With each album they changed tone and approach, and in terms of sheer musical ability, the partnership can have been matched by few since. So, if you want to discover a hidden gem of the mid-90s, check Curve out. Yes, they are quite electronic, and yes, they have a female singer, but that's where the Garbage comparisons should end; they have oh so much more to offer than Garbage ever did.

Albums:

Curve's first record, essentially just a shoegazing outing, riding the back of the scene that was popular at the time. Highlights include opener 'Already Yours', the sublimely vocal-led 'Horror Head', sinister 'Lillies Dying' and more aggressive 'Split Into Fractions'. The closer, 'Sandpit' is worth a mention, as it bears some resemblance to a melancholy 'Tea in the Sahara' by the Police.... at least to me. 

 
Cuckoo, Curve's second album, is darker and more industrial in feel- the guitars are more agressive, less washed out in the mix, and the dark electronic influences that were later to tell are beginning to surface. That said, the highlight is undoubtedly the shoegaze mammoth of 'Superblaster'. The album performed poorly, both in sales and in critical reception, and overall it's by far Curve's weakest effort. After this, the band would break up.




 From the word go, this album, by the newly- reformed Curve is unstoppable. From the sheer madness of 'Chinese Burn', which is like Nine Inch Nails covering The Cure, it just gets better and better. There's only one bad track on here- the inexplicable noise-punk of the title cut, which cuts in just as the album is tripping out towards the end. My personal favourite is possibly 'Beyond Reach'. The sheer restrained malice and bitterness in Toni Halliday's delivery of the lines "never pick a fight with someone bigger than you/ that's what I learned when I was at school", and "I'm a tosser for thinking/ it was anything more than it was" are the most plain her lyrics ever get, as well as the cathartic high-water mark of the album. 

By Gift, major rifts had formed between Curve and their record label Universal, and it seems they can have had few illusions about this record being their last; a gentle progression from their previous effort, with the guitars all but gone, the downtempo 'Polaroid' and 'Hung Up' steal the show, while a guest appearance from Kevin Shields adds magic to the best track, 'Perish', and the lyrics, "we're staying together for the sake of our memories" and "I'm scared of the bugs, a millionth of the size of me" could as easily be about the breakdown of the band as the other loss they describe. Other guests (including Flood and members of Filter and Depeche Mode) bring subtle changes of mood to the tracks they feature on, and add a backstory to the album that gives it a fitting weight for a final outing. Curve go down swinging, and as Halliday screams "I should have seen it coming!" at the end of 'Bleeding Heart' you feel her trademark vocal restraint finally crack, as she moves from ethereal to pure, elemental anger amid a wall of fuzz distortion, and the heaviest passage of any song in their career.

The great thing about Curve though, over say, Vex Red, is that they had time to develop and actually put out a body of work before they finally went under. There's still the inevitable 'what if?', but with three truly great albums under their belts there's equally enough to get your teeth stuck into. By the time that 'Bleeding Heart' is fading out in your speakers, you'll have been with the band on a real journey, and an increasingly personal one at that, as the lyrics become progressively more transparent album to album. They are an obsessive music fan's dream- and more than that, they genuinely were an excellent band.




(For the interested) Live Rig for Dean Garcia:
The bottom image is (c) Guitargeek.com 2004.

6 comments:

  1. Not only do I remember Curve, I bought all their albums and still play them. Pretty good band, deserved better. And I agree, Garbage got a lot of, eh... 'inspiration' from Curve.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My cousin introduced me to Curve with Doppleganger. I was an instant fan. I had heard Horror Head before that day and was amazed that the entire CD was full of hits! Over the years I sought out all I could find from Curve. I love their entire catalog.

    A few years ago, I had contacted Dean Garcia via his website (pre-faceook days) and was able to buy The New Adventures of Curve, one that had slipped by me given the long time for its release. Anyway, Dean was very cool and sold me a copy as well as a CD of Rare and Unreleased Curve singles, and his own Crosseyedrabbit2 CD.

    I love CURVE! Always will. My one regret is never having seen them perform live. They never released a live performance DVD either. T'is a shame!

    PS - While I do also love Garbage Version 2.0 and the most perfect track ever produced, #1 Crush, they never got better than 2.0. While Curve grew with each album.

    PPS - Any thoughts on Stabbing Westward? Another phenomenal band that Linkin Park owes much to.

    ReplyDelete
  3. For me it is very simple, all disks of curve never let me down =)
    Garbage ... has only two good albums for me: garbage (debut) and 2.0 the other disks are real garbage.
    Good Blog !

    ReplyDelete
  4. So many errors in this post...

    "What happened then? Garbage. Garbage happened."
    Totally false. Curve would have the same level of success with or without Garbage. Curve had 5 (five) years from 1990 (formation) until 1995 (when Garbage's debut was released) to achieve success on their own but they missed the opportunity. Imagine that Garbage never existed; Curve would have the same little success or even lower. This is clear as teh light of the day.

    "Butch Vig, the driving force behind Garbage had worked with Curve..."
    From where did you get that? Butch WANTED to work with Curve, but that never happened. Get your facts straight.

    "...but in this case, it's simple: Garbage ripped Curve off, and fucked them over. How? Let me explain. Garbage's more simple arrangements took Curve off the playlists, jumbled up people's sense of which band came first, and when the inevitable backlash came against Garbage's platinum-selling debut, Curve got buried completely, while Garbage were big enough to weather the storm."
    Totally ridiculous explanation. Many lies here:
    1. "Garbage's more simple arrangements took Curve off the playlists".
    How's that even possible? Is someone forced to listen ONLY to one of these bands? If people wanted Curve's music, they would get it.

    2. "inevitable backlash came against Garbage's platinum-selling debut".
    It wasn't any backlash. The album was and it's still well regarded. Check the Wikipedia page of Garbage's debut album.

    3. "jumbled up people's sense of which band came first,"
    Does this really matters? Remember in 90s there were 2 main bands in britpop scene: Oasis & Blur. Does it matters who came first? Also there were 2 main shoegaze bands: MBV & Slowdive. Again, anyone accussed Slowdive for copying MBV (who came first)? I don't think so. The market had place for both Curve & Garbage. The problem was that Curve were poorly promoted.

    4. "Curve got buried completely, while Garbage were big enough to weather the storm".
    False. What "weather the storm" you're talking about? Garbage had mega-success with BOTH first albums. The backlash came after beautifulgarbage (in 2001), long after their debut. What's Garbage's fault that Curve got buried completely? They're two different bands for God's sake and they're independent.

    For your information: Garbage were inspired by SOME parts of Curve's music, exactly like Curve were inspired by MBV & Jesus and the Mary Chain. Garbage mixed these elements with many other elements (trip-hop, ambient, pop, techno, etc). I recommend you to listen to all Garbage's albums. You'll find how different their sound really is.

    You know something? I guess a lot of Curve fans are envious by Garbage's success. They can't accept that Curve were simply too difficult/loud for mainstream. In fact all these angry Curve fans should be thankful for Garbage because a lot of their fans checked Curve's music when they looked for similar artists.

    PS: I'm also a big Curve fan, by the way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You're one pathetically butthurt MORON.

    99% of what you've written is false, and quite pathetic actually.

    PS, Butch Vig NEVER worked with Curved.

    Bloody idiot.

    ReplyDelete