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"The Lunatic Fringe"

Toni Halliday: Single deathly-white female Electro-hippies, acid-ranting, some bits that sound like a Lucozade bottleround the back of your car... Have Curve gone completely bonkers?

His people called themselves the Merry Pranksters. He was Ken Kesey, acid visionary, scribe and sort of Pied Piper of Haight Ashbury, the subject of Tom Wolfe's intriguing hippy keyholer The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Quite a guy. And who expected him to pop up on the new Curve record?

Surely Edgar Allan Poe or Dean R Koontz! But no. From out of the weird, ambient squiggling a voice emerges, a madman, evidently, ranting on, with a grin in his voice: "You want my money, my harmonica? Ha! That's all I got! My bandana? My knife? Oh, you can use that to kill me!" It's Ken. And, just as you've strained hard enough to catch what he's burbling on about, a single tendril of feedback wiggles out and brushes your ear. Curve have come to scare your pets, finger your entrails and blow your mind. Not merry. Not a prank.

Full marks for the intro then. 'Missing Link', the album's opener and flyer single combined, has "WE'RE BACK!" written right through it. A monstrous, pounding thing, it does little to betray the Curve-formula myth, but it certainly ups the ante while going about it. The riff is Sonic Youth's 'Catholic Block': the timbre is very much raise the rafter.

But no one comes away surprised, or indeed converted. It's Curve alright, albeit an 8.4 per cent proof version. But it isn't going to win anyone over who hasn't already been ensnared by their existing black catalogue. One of the most amazing things about this once-maligned band is the airtight way they're now attached to rock lore's bosom. Quick work. In just two years they have established themselves as key players: dusky and mysterious, cosmetic and up-for-it, they have straddled the underground/overground fence with remarkable acumen. This pin-up ubiquity, however, makes for a large body of detractors. 'Cuckoo', then, is here to turn those people's heads.

'Missing Link' done, and the album switches gear. The next nine tracks make it their business to deepen and widen the Curve sound to the point where last year's often one-dimensional 'Doppelgänger' is a memory rattling about in the back of your mind like a Lucozade bottle in the back of a car. Although that album had a power and glory that gained from translation into live band workouts, 'Cuckoo' is an album's album. It is, already, in this form, a very special exhibit.

'Crystal' is a slower, calmer platform for the wonders of Toni Halliday's voice. She does four distinct tricks: the full-monty operatic belter; the soothing serenade; the irresistable little-girl-saying-her-prayers wail, and those haunting spoken passages. The first three are deftly combined on 'Crystal', a starkly-arranged stalker that carries no more offensive a weapon than secrecy. 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus' (Toni's lyrics do seem to have essence of romantic alienation sprinkled throughout) is equally patient and surefooted, caught breath is as key to it's effect as last year's 'Horror Head'. The guitars still scrape and the interference still loiters, but the onus is on the voice and drums to deliver.

Side one's 'All Of One' and Side two's 'Left Of Mother' provide welcome sonic relief, the former a swirling soliloquy with "we are all just scum" at it's hard centre; the latter a John Barry cinemascope adventure with gorgeous acoustic guitar as its signature. 'Unreadable Communication' (the title appropriated from Ken's rambling on side two) is sculpted into a Blade Runner epic from pulsing synths and resonant vocal. 'Turkey Crossing' (named after the Curve dog, Turkey, and actually based on her sampled panting) wouldn't sound out of place on Depeche Mode's 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion'.

The end sequence is spectacular: 'Sweetest Pie' - very Siouxsie, as it happens - leading into the title track's mix of vocal and reverberating guitar. Like a dismembered but beautifully manicured hand, this record beckons the listener into the darkness with aromatic promises and sexual allure. Subtly produced (by the band, with Flood and Steve Osborne, mixed by Alan Moulder) it is a more mainstream Curve record filling the desire for a post-corporate band with higher aspirations and an all-pervasive sense of dark glamour. 'Cuckoo' should see Curve hoist from the small pond and cast into what is sometimes a great ocean... Never mind what Ken says on the fade-out... "Oooh, it's an abomination if I've ever heard one". Gee, they even laugh at themselves, too.

***** (out of 5)

review by Andrew Collins (nicked from 'Select', dated 1993)

note: all the samples of Ken Kesey described above were removed from the album before it was released, due to copyright hassles... Curve still have the master tapes and I want a copy... :)

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