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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Hawkwind's new album ONWARD

Are you old enough to have gone to a Hawkwind gig in a trenchcoat that reeks of patchouli oil? This is a review from someone who, in 1976, did just that. Sonic_Hawk on Dime gives the new album a whirl...

It's good to hear new Hawkwind that still is unmistakeably Hawkwind.

In general style, and in its soundscape, "Onward" carries on from where "Blood of the Earth" (2010) left off. Thus, we find a similar dense mix on the first two tracks, but with a meatier grunge/blanga factor. Dense and busy almost to the point of claustrophobia, these two tracks have a lot of Nial Hone influence - an influence that intriguingly fades as the album progresses.

If I had to pick an album with which to compare this one, though, I might suggest "Electric Tepee," although there's much more guitar work here and even some Brock riffing. And, on track 2 (The Hills have Ears) there's a welcome guest slot for Huw Lloyd-Langton, guitarist with Hawkwind 40 or so years ago.

The band have always had an attitude of progressing, of doing new stuff, but
I remember when 1977 punk rock fans categorised the Hawks as BOFs - boring old farts. Had Hawkwind settled down to churning out derivitive stuff for hippies in basement flats, the critics (and there have been many) would not have been surprised.

Instead, they're composing new material and attracting new fans. At gigs, I've seen plenty of fans who need to carry ID cards to get served at the bar, and this album seems optimised for them - for playback on earbuds and computer speakers, rather than hifi separates wired up to bloody great Wharfdales or whatever.

Those diehards who still have Garrard decks will probably cringe when they hear the amount of compression on this album but the youngsters should like it...

Some of the grungy intensity reminds me of "Chronicle of the Black Sword" and the swirly collage aspect reminds me of "Electric Tepee."

Track 3 - I can't figure out where I've heard the tune of "Mind Cut" before - possibly at some recent Hawkwind gigs? I do tend to see 'em two or three times a year, but one loses track sometimes. Especially at my age! Anyway, it's an ambient Brock strummity-strum that's closer to "Infinity" than it is to "Uncle Sam," so there you go.

The bonuses, I think, are there for newcomers rather than established fans. Or maybe they're for people without an internet connection, since several have been on MySpace or the band's main site for some years now. "Death Trap" (and its prelude, "System Check") was put on the MySpace site some years ago but fits here in a way (sort of) - but maybe it's the type of techno-punk experimentation that should just remain as a web freebie.

On the other hand, the now-deceased Robert Calvert (who wrote the lyrics and sung it at gigs in 1977) did give it a bit of a punk rock feel back then, and I rather think that Bob might have approved of this version.

"System Check" (preceeding it) is noteworthy on one front: it sounds like it includes Tim Blake in sinister vocal mode: good for those who like their ex-Gong members to shove the pixie teapot aside and sound all rough and scary!

Talking of Blake: track 6, "Southern Cross" is written by him, a drifty instrumental that takes us into what I think of as "the Dave Brock area" of the album.

The general sound and lyrical 'feel' of "The Prophesy" should please all Brock fans, as his unique stamp is all over this excellent mid-tempo number... including the end. Brock's been adding incongruous samples into his music for decades, and old habits die hard, I guess.

The closing track of Side One awakens musical echoes of "Assault and Battery" and keeps the musical standard swirlingly high.

Disk Two

The Dave Brock section continues with some spine-tingling pumping riffs and the socially-relevant lyrics of "Computer Cowards" - Richard Chadwick plays drums and DB does everything else - although they might have a problem with this approach at gigs.

Um, there's a thought, eh.

Anyway, much of the Brock riffing is very "Psychedelic Warlords", and some has the YBBI touch - from the "take my hand, I'll lead you there" section of the song. Here, though, Brock looks at the "hiding, sniping, sarcastic little creeps" who are "hiding in their rooms" and want to "bring people to their knees." Yep, topical stuff, and the best track on the album, for me.

A 2008 Hawkwind section then interrupts the Dave Brock section...

Remakes of "Right to Decide", "Aerospace-age Inferno", and "The Flowering of the Rose" (a jam from "Damnation Alley") feature the keyboard sounds of Jason Stuart, who joined the band in 2004 and then died - far too young - in 2008 of a brain hemorrhage.

The 8-minute jam has been available on the Hawkwind website for a couple of years now, and always deserved a wider distribution. Now, it's got it.

The Brock section then resumes with the keyboards and samples that are "Trans Air Trucking" and "Deep Vents" before the band go for a swim in swirly waters with the atmospheric "Green Finned Demon."

And then the mystery track, which just shows as a dot on Amazon downloads. It's a bit of a reprise of the start of the album, in that it's dense and compressed, but it's got the genuine Hawkwind 'stamp' all over it as we "witness the chaos of eternal motion" and hear the guitars chugging away....

In conclusion, I guess any Hawkwind fan who can push aside the hope that the band are going to do 1972 Doremi blanga* thrashes will find this their best studio album for quite some decades. Good work!

Label: Eastworld
Download from Amazon etc: available from approx 30 Apr.
Double CD released a few days ago.
Vinyl version is available from the end of May, I believe.

* For more on the term 'blanga' see earlier on Gonzo!

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