Chastised as musique plastique by critics skeptical of both the band’s history and lack thereof, Curve’s auspicious debuts (a series of three accomplished EPs released in under seven months and collected on Pubic Fruit) helped deflect accusations of perfectionist hipness. However, the group’s core — bassist/guitarist Dean Garcia and vocalist Toni Halliday — was not without its closeted skeletons, having worked together previously in the noxiously commercial State of Play. Both Balancing the Scales and Halliday’s solo bow (recorded in 1987 with help from both Garcia and future Curve producer/ancillary guitarist Alan Moulder) are amazing for their complete dearth of original ideas, wallowing in the mushy, pre-rave electro-pop that dominated UK charts in the mid-’80s.
However, they are also remarkable for the astonishing (if illogical) stylistic metamorphosis that Garcia and Halliday underwent in the intervening years. The percussive, guitar-drenched music on Blindfold is certainly a far cry from the commercialism of their earlier work, relying on a numb sort of sonic bludgeon to get its point across. Although the formula varies little between the three EPs (as a result, Pubic Fruit makes a much better album than many such collections), Halliday’s icy sensuality — combined with Garcia’s layers of guitars and keyboards — produces an impenetrable top layer carried along by an effective rhythm mixture of live and sequenced drum patterns. Far from either the metallic clichés of industrial music or the fuzzy flailings of My Bloody Valentine hopefuls, Curve’s blend of pure sonics and infectious throb works in a way that is truly original.
Having found a functional formula, Halliday and Garcia proceeded to essentially re-record the same song in eleven new ways for Doppelgänger. Enjoyable but ultimately monochromatic, Curve’s proper debut came as a disappointment in light of the group’s initially accelerated innovation. Except for the baroque theatricality of “Faît Accompli” and the dramatic ambience of “Sandpit,” Garcia appears to have gotten his drum pattern set to “stun” during the sessions; the result is an album that, though certainly well-made, sounds like it’s stuck in a loop.
As if to drive that disturbing point home, Curve actually began re-releasing its old music around this time. In addition to Pubic Fruit, the Radio Sessions CD appeared, arising from a Radio 1 session that took place as Blindfold was released and a session that immediately preceded the release of Doppelgänger. Although vaguely informative (“Coast Is Clear” was a day old at the time of the first session and sounds it), it’s basically another redundancy in what was shaping up as an incredibly redundant career.
When nobody was paying much attention anymore, Curve released an extraordinary record: Cuckoo. Darker, deeper and ultimately more rewarding than any of the band’s other work, Cuckoo‘s gnashing guitar batterie and barely controlled percussion reveals a group that seems to actually be functioning as a live unit rather than as a pair of stars and backup musicians. The album forsakes a good deal of Doppelgänger‘s sterile finish for an uneasy blend of swirling studio sheen and feedback-driven rock. Curve’s best moment, Cuckoo was also, for a time, its last. Guitarist Debbie Smith joined Echobelly on a full-time basis. Garcia devoted his time to — in Halliday’s words — making “flying saucer music.” Halliday, working with Moulder under the name Scylla, put a very Curve-like track on the Showgirls soundtrack.
Garcia and Halliday restarted Curve in 1996 and launched their own FatLip label via the band’s official website.
Given the break and the ensuing change in zeitgeist, one might expect an evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, but the reunion debut Come Clean simply repeats the sections of previous songs that worked with precious little audible spirit or aural stickiness. Curve is steadfastly hanging to the remaining rung of the shoegaze ladder with the one sound it’s comfortable making and stubbornly refuses to look beyond.
Open Day at the Hate Fest is more of the same. “Nowhere” gets the album off to a strong start; although nearly indistinguishable in structure from the rest, improved clarity in the production sets it apart. (This is one band that easily bogged in the mud of an assiduous mix.) “Turnaround” reiterates Curve’s continued purpose, while the monotonous vocals of “Storm” do little to justify the corner Halliday has created for her delivery. Musically, Curve is all artifice, but bumping up against techno (“Caught in the Alleyway”) works to its advantage.
Gift, not surprisingly, sticks to the blueprint. With the lack of dynamics and the unvarying vocal treatment, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish not just one song from another but one album from another. Kevin Shields guests on “Want More Need Less” and “Perish,” two of the better tracks. “Fly With the High” again shows promise by venturing into electronica, but it’s apparent that Halliday is attracted to just a few notes and gimmicks, not an alternative aesthetic.
With that as his opening, Garcia continued the tilt towards techno on The New Adventures of Curve. “Answers” puts a better-than-usual Halliday vocal over a pounding club pulse. “Cold Comfort” downplays the processing and succeeds better for it. The darker “Every Good Girl” sounds like Nine Inch Nails accompanying movie credits. The swooning “Star” is comfortably icy, but real drums would have helped; “Till the Cows Come Home” drones, swirls and succeeds. Garcia surprisingly sings the noteworthy closer, “Joy” and leaves one wondering why it took him so long to commandeer the mic.
Curve disbanded again in 2005. The Way of Curve is a career retrospective. Headcase is Garcia’s solo electronica project.