It’s been a while since I’ve heard from Curve. I was a fan of theirs from the beginning. When Doppelganger came out back in ’92, I snapped it up into my hot little hands. I have to admit I was pretty taken with Toni Halliday, her look, and of course that voice of hers. “Horror Head” sold me to the band. But tracks like “Fait Accompli” made me a real fan. On my bedroom wall, I had a promo poster for the album that was a picture filled with all those various baby doll parts much like the album sleeve. I ultimately loved Curve because they sounded different. They weren’t strictly electronic or straight rock or even industrial for that matter. They had a dark edge, but they also had that sexy side to them as well that other bands were lacking at the time.
Specifically, they came before Garbage, who tended to model themselves in the wake of Curve’s great influence. I have always enjoyed Curve’s music more when it comes down to picking between the two bands. Shirley Manson’s just as much of a doll as Halliday, and a good number of Garbage’s tunes are keepers, but so far I have yet to see the band hold down an entire album the way Curve has. And now they’re back. Both groups. With new albums. But Gift is the one you’ll need when all is said and done. This one should satisfy the old fans like myself while reaching out to an entirely new audience.
The formula hasn’t changed any. Curve still finds Halliday and partner Dean Garcia creating waves of sound from various instruments and machines just like they always have. This time, though, they have some interesting guests. Back once again is producer Flood who has worked with the band through the years, beginning with the Cukoo release. Also on board is My Bloody Valentine’s very own Kevin Shields, who of course knows a thing or two about densely constructed noise pop. On Gift, he plays on both “Want More Need Less” and “Perish”, two of the album’s best tracks.
But it’s still the enigmatic Toni Halliday at the center of the furious sound, at once both dramatic and accessible. In fact, Gift tends to lean a little more towards the prettier side of the fence. This is not a bad thing at all, as the album sounds like the group’s best release since Doppelganger. I read a review for this album over at Amazon. There, the reviewer thought that the leadoff track “Hell Above Water” sounded like a cheaper version of Nine Inch Nails. Whatever. Halliday and Garcia can outplay Trent Reznor anyday. While the beloved Nine Incher insists on cranking out nothing but overwrought extrapolations of his never-ending pain, Curve is not afraid to step into the light, making their albums a much more thoroughly encompassing emotional experience.
Indeed, it’s the beauty of songs like “Perish” and “Want More Need Less” that breathe and flow all over the place in contrasting hues of dark and light. The former features one of the most gorgeous choruses Halliday has ever sung, while the latter sounds like classic Curve, complete with hypnotic harmonies and edgy beats. On the title track, Toni sings “It’s a gift that I’m givin’ / And I’ve been wanting to show it to you, babe” and then refrains of “Do it to please me”. It’s both menacing and seductive, as the beats and synths swallow up the listener. The kind of thing Garbage often tries to attain. Yet Halliday’s sexiness comes through as purely organic through the programmed beats, unlike Shirley Manson who often seems as cold as some of her group’s music.
Other highlights include the sinister “My Tiled White Floor”. “My tiled white floor / Seems so soothing / It’s so inviting / So don’t ask questions / ‘Cause my nose is bleeding / But all’s forgiven / It’s so inviting / And it don’t ask questions” sings Toni, sounding as though she’s ready to embrace you and possibly break your neck after doing so. “Chainmail” is almost unbearably sexy, while the closing “Bleeding Heart” pulsates and rocks away without ever looking back.
This is undoubtedly one of the best releases this year offered up by a major label (Hip-O’s distributor is Universal Music), and certainly quite the “comeback” for Curve. The fact that it apparently sat around for a year without being released either means the industry is completely clueless, or this was just some of the best timing ever. Hopefully it’s the latter, as it is truly fantastic to see this band back with such great new songs. Perhaps this is where the rock begins to reclaim its rightful throne. If not, it’s still one hell of a ride and certainly a release that should not be overlooked by any music lover, Curve fan or not.