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A Lush New Album

The studiously spooky or anonymous "faces" of groups such as Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk are being replaced by powerful, yet more approachable, ones. The female voice is entering, bringing with it a slightly more human (still usually spooky) visage. Groups such as the Sneaker Pimps, Portishead and Mono demonstrate how well women's voices blend with techno undertones, and Tricky understood this when he employed Martina Topley Bird to sing on much of his work.

Over the past year or so electronica -- thanks, in part, to a concerted effort by the record industry -- has become something of a big deal. During this time Curve has maintained a relatively low profile, with the exception of the release of an EP, the black-on-black Chinese Burn, in the fall of 1997. This relative quiet has piqued intense curiosity about the new album. And, as it turns out, such curiosity was merited, because Come Clean has a sound far different from Curve's usual dark recklessness (on 1992's Doppelgänger and 1993's Cuckoo). The new album is lush with hard noises, jagged guitars, urban-industrial soundscapes and blistering rhythms. But it's also sexy, rich, glamorous and glittering.

Curve plunges listeners into the deep end with the expansive "Chinese Burn" -- the aural equivalent of running for your life, with the cops at your heels -- then drops quickly into "Coming Up Roses," which is all sensuality and fragility, framed by modest, shuffling drums and piercing guitars. Toni Halliday's voice brims with rage, hurt and damage, with lyrics such as, "Can you feel the way I've grown/And disconnected?/A mile is long when home is far away." Dean Garcia's sound structures allow Halliday's voice to climb effortlessly. When her voice is all melody, his backdrop burns and scrapes, adding dimension. When Halliday howls -- as she does in "Something Familiar" and "Dirty High" -- Garcia counters with pretty harmonies that sometimes border on ambient.

What really makes Come Clean worth listening to is the sheer force of these songs -- the gut-punching "Dog Bone" and the sing-along flavors of "Alligators Getting Up" (which also features a background riff straight out of the James Bond theme). Curve rides the highs and lows, supplying ballistic rhythms perfect for the kind of cathartic dance-floor experiences that make life worth living and enough vocal harmonies and slow-paced tracks -- not ballads exactly, but something similar-- to remind us that life comes in at least three dimensions.

"A single sound has changed me forever," Halliday sings in "Sweetback," and although she's talking about the sound of love, there's a broader truth in those words. The world of electronica is changing, returning to a more human source that allows listeners to enjoy the music because they actually can relate to it. "Let fate decide if our future's going as high as the sky above," she continues. Electronica may never reach the top of the charts -- although, like punk, it has the potential -- but bands such as Curve are here to show us why you can't get to the top with just a few loops and computers. It's music; it comes from the heart, and they haven't invented computers with those -- yet.

**** (out of 5)

review by Beth Winegarner (nicked from the now-defunct 'Addicted' website, dated 1998)