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"Sheen-Age Mix"

It's cuff at the top: conditions at the BBC's studios ain't what they used to be either!

IN THE dim and distant past, the concept of a radio session was different from that widely prevailing today. Bands would turn up at the BBC's converted air-raid shelter studios at Maida Vale and regard the neutral in-house engineer and time constraints as liberating factors; strength was seized in the face of no-budget adversity and the wildest ideas were thrown up and nailed in the glorious tradition of winging it. So what if it all sounded a bit rough? It wasn't as if these fly-by-night affairs were to be preserved for posterity's unforgiving eye.

But sometime in the mid-'80s too many bands started to use the good offices of John Peel & co as cheap studio time, brought in their favourite engineers and made replicas of their regular work. The advent of the sessions album releases has cast such practices in deservedly unfavourable light. but it's no comfort for the diehard fans who'll dutifully grab at their heroes' every scrap - and at whom the likes of this, Curve's entry into the stop-gap release fray, is aimed.

Curve would appear to fit the new model sesh mould perfectly. It's hard to imagine their elaborately sculpted choccy-box noise symphonettes working in - say - acoustic form, or with that guest horn section who just happened to be in the Radio 3 room next door, and so it proves: these two Peel sessions from '91 and '92 hold few surprises.

With the hand of producer Alan Moulder evidently not far from proceedings, the versions of 'Ten Little Girls' and 'No Escape From Heaven' retain the originals' libidinous tension and benefit from the suspicion that an actual real-life band might well be playing them. From the same spring '91 batch comes an embryonic 'Coast Is Clear' that's still sufficiently together to confirm it as Curve's finest four-minute domestic nightmare.

End of February '92, and precious little has changed, except that the fug of studio precision hangs even heavier than before on 'Die Like A Dog' and 'Horror Head'. Even the hottest-blooded Hallidayites would be hard-pushed to admit an unarguable case for these alternate takes' existence, while sceptics will need look no further for proof of Curve's alleged one-trick pony status. Mitigation against the latter view does exist, though, in the hitherto-relegated-to-B-side-status 'Arms Out', on which Toni dares to break free of the immaculately conceived surface sheen and belts out a veritable song with a palpable lyrical uppercut: "Something I don't understand has taken hold of you and made you less than a man".

Whether Curve's next proper release will reveal a giant leap away from their entrenched glitterdoom bridgehead remains to be seen. 'Radio Sessions' merely suggests they may have worked this clinically beautiful seam to exhaustion.

6 (out of 10)

review by Keith Cameron (nicked from 'New Musical Express', dated 5 June 1993)

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