Friday, 20 September 2013

Album review: Hawkwind - Spacehawks

Eastworld EW0138CD / digipak EW0139CD

Release dates:
Early October in the USA.
28 October 2013 in UK.
Other zones: no info yet.


A strong album but a game of two halves, as the football commentators might say. Overall, pretty damn good, though.

The layout, broadly speaking, is nostalgia first and new stuff later; higher energy rock first and the quieter stuff later.

"Seasons" is the first one out of the dressing room, with its monotonal singing and brief bursts of  lead guitar and other effects churning around... it's a makeover of the "Onward" album version and, as on that 2012 album, is the opener to this album too. Winning the 'opener' award twice in succession is perhaps an honour it doesn't quite deserve, though.

"Assault & Battery": A nostalgic and lively canter through a 40-year old classic, with unusual stereo effects on the vocals during parts of the chorus. As on the original "Warrior" album there's a segue into an interestingly grungy and dense "Golden Void". Pause to light one up here, and reflect that that duo of songs is disposed of in almost half the time it took in 1975. That might be efficiency, of course. Less is more? Well, possibly. The track duo ain't bad and does rather sound like a live version, even if it's not.

"Where Are You Now" is, I believe, an obscure track from the mid-70s. The band regularly started performing it in 2003— bolted onto "Golden Void" and sounding rather as if it had always belonged there. Somewhat resembling the song "PXR 5," it's great to hear a proper recording of it at last.

"Sonic Attack": any Hawkwind fans who remember the stereo mania version on "Weird Tapes 3" (supposedly recorded at Stonehenge 1977) will find this familiar: well over six minutes of total sonic commotion, and following the general arrangement of the live 1981 performances that (so far) haven't been released other than in bootleg form. It's a shame Hawkwind can't hit this sort of cosmic intensity more often at their gigs. Use your swoosh and zap knobs on your synths, it is what they are for!

Unlike some ageing bands, Hawkwind's quite good at attracting new and very young fans. If those fans hear this one at high volume, though, it'll scare 'em shitless... which is all to the good. Nice to hear Hawkwind crank the cosmic dial up to 11 and make us remember the good ol' days of massed speaker stacks and swirling smoke. And when the bass riffing kicks in halfway through... just turn it up and follow the traditional advice: think only of yourself.

It's worth noting here that the review album was sent to us electronically, with no sleeve notes or other information, so it's not always clear who did what - and when - on any given track.  I gather from the track listing on the CD Services site that the radio-traffic-style vocal was done by William Shatner, but it's difficult to tell. It's not Dave Brock, but otherwise it could be almost anyone from Pavarotti to Prince Charles who's in a poor-reception cellphone area.

"Demented Man" is a strong chunky-strum version of the vocal and string synth driven acoustic number that appeared, with its seagull type sounds, on the "Warrior" album.

"We Two are One": vocal chants and solid Hawkwind powerhouse backing that almost sounds (especially in the middle) like an out-take from the 1977 Quark era. (That's meant to be a strong compliment, by the way.)

"We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago" is a Dave Brock re-visit, rather than a Dave Brock revamp.

"Master of the Universe" is one they presumably they know off by heart, by now... dense and powerful, and much the same broad musical arrangement that they've been using ever since the "Live 79" album. This one, though, has the first verse at the beginning as well as the end, and the 2nd verse in the middle, which is decidedly unusual.

Huw Lloyd-Langton is part of the crew on this studio version. Brock's guitaring is not particularly prominent, it's just blended with the bass and general Hawkwind powerhouse, rather as we hear it at gigs on those lucky occasions when we can hear it at all.

Just over 55% of the way through the album, now....

Half time, then; and having just consulted Starfarer's Hawkwind Codex page, and assuming that "Master" version is previously unreleased, this one becomes the twenty-fourth individual version to see release. Not all Hawkwind fans are solely "good old days" retro-rockers by any means, and some might wonder if we need quite so many versions of these oldies. Personally, though, I don't mind a team that combines old stars and raw rookies, so long as they go out and win the game. And I'd say they've piled up a damn good score so far.

"Sacrosanct,"  a new kid on the block, has more of a popcorny rhythm than the heavier stuff earlier, and somewhat resembles a Dave Brock solo item, but in a pop-80s style. It does cover a bit of ground in a gentle prog rock kind of way, with the bass sounds grumbling away and various other effects, some jazz piano tinkles and guitar splurges wafting in and out during its eight-minute reign. A deeply unusual Hawkwind piece, overall.

"Sentinel": Most who've seen the band in the last few years will recognise this on-loan ballad from the "Blood of the Earth" album, which first appeared in the live setlist in 2008. Characterised by its "How many more times?" refrain, I've seen some of the audience use it as a "pee break" but hell, when a man's gotta go, a man's gotta go. However, its inclusion here is a reminder of why Hawkwind gig-goers who drink too much beer really need to buy a catheter on eBay.

"It's all Lies" is on a free transfer from the recent "Stellar Variations" album.  Some chunky Brock-type riffing and general grungy Hawkwind powerhouse on this one, whose chanting-style vocals mostly seem to consist of the title line. It's a cheerful-sounding chunk of Hawkwind, though, and wouldn't have been out of place if it had taken to the field during the first half.

"Touch," "Chumps," and "Lonely Moon" are all unlikely to cause any ripples on forum threads or newsgroups, mainly because each are so very brief that there's no time for them to achieve anything. Maybe they got red-carded for kicking the referee in the bollocks as the final whistle loomed ever closer?

"Sunship" has an unusual claim to fame. Back when the "Blood" album came out, we had the odd situation where "Sunship" was available on the vinyl purchase but not on the corresponding CD. Now, a revisit of that 2-minute ballad that many fans mightn't have heard closes out this album in relaxed fashion.

Hawkwind have just announced that every format of this "Spacehawks" album has the same tracks and that "you can choose which version you buy without missing out on anything," - so while this Spacehawks album distribution doesn't have a "Sunship scenario," it does have a "Sunship."


Both halves of the album have their merits, even if they don't really 'gell' together. However, one could say the game was well and truly won in the first half, after which the newbies safely could go on the pitch and try their luck - with mixed success, one has to say. But any footballer will tell you it's the win that matters in the end!

1 comment:

  1. Your review made me go and buy this. Looking forward to their North American tour!


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