Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hawkwind - Spacehawks


Anyone who read my review of the most recent ‘proper’ Hawkwind album, Onward, might remember that I found myself disappointed with that entry into the Hawkwind catalogue – though following on from that I reviewed much more enthusiastically both the Hawkwind Light Orchestra album and especially the lovely Looking For Love In The Lost Land Of Dreams from Dave Brock. This new collection, put together with a particular eye on the US market but of course also available in the UK, is in a nice position of rounding up what recent Hawkwind has been all about without having the pressure of adding to the canon as a whole. So though it trawls both past and present in the same way as Onward did before it, this one is more like the current Hawkwind incarnation’s equivalent of, say, Out & Intake, a snapshot at a point in time (perhaps with time lapse exposure, as it were, reflecting that this current line-up has possibly the longest stability of any) that says “this is what we’ve been up to… catch up!” if you will, and is hugely enjoyable for doing that without the weight of expectation of being in the sequence of definitive studio LPs. Some of it reworks standards, some of it gives Dave Brock a chance to take a fresh approach to the mix of more recent numbers and there’s some unheard new material receiving an airing as well.

To pick at a few choice entries here, one of the great thrills of following Hawkwind is those moments where they’ll pick out something that’s been hidden away in one of the nooks and crannies of the canon and breathe fresh life into or bring it into the mainstream of their set. ‘Where Are You Now’ was once an overlooked gem, known only as a snippet of encore from Hammersmith in the mid-70s and captured on one of the Weird Tapes releases; then without warning and really quite thrillingly it re-materialised as a segue onto the back of ‘Assault & Battery’ / ‘Golden Void’ circa 2003 and that’s where it appears again here, rumbling out of ‘Golden Void’ and longing relating the crumble and decay of some unknown ancient race. If memory serves, I’m not alone in love for this from way back, since I think it appears as a paragraph heading in what I’ve always thought of as one of the really great Hawkwind music paper features, that one by Alan Moore in Sounds circa Chose Your Masques that I’m so fond of quoting from (“the day-glo Hawkwind insignia blazed in the ultra-violet light … Christ, I had one hell of a time.” That one.).

Other gems pulled out of long-ago on Spacehawks include ‘The Demented Man’, loving recreated on the 2013 Warrior tour and long wished for as an inclusion in the live set, and ‘We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago’. They sort of fare differently here. ‘The Demented Man’ is gorgeous, wonderful to hear again (Pre-Med did a super version on their The Truth About Us album a while back as well), and just to stand in a hall and hear it played, as I did down at Falmouth a few weeks back, is such a treat. And I enjoyed hearing it again here; but it’s one where the brittle melancholic delivery of the original, on Warrior On The Edge Of Time, is just so perfect, so fully realised, that revisiting it might not ever get beyond 99% of doing it justice; the original is the  perfectly-pitched definitive article. On the other hand, the fresh look at ‘We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago’ just seems not just to revisit it but update it, moving it from a cautionary, ‘Eve Of Destruction’ protest song to a wistfully fatalistic rumination on the way the world has gone, and as such is an apposite re-working that brings something new to another neglected classic. ‘Master Of The Universe’, included here, is poignant for a totally different reason, featuring the great and so much missed Huw Lloyd Langton on what was, as I understand it, his very last Hawkwind recording.

Of Spacehawks reflection of newer material, there’s some very strong tracks included here. ‘It’s All Lies’ is a proper Hawkwind song and no mistake, provocative and challenging, having something to say about society and saying it in forthright tones and is really part of that element of the canon which contains those songs I think of when I remember how Richard Chadwick once described Hawkwind to me as, “Poking at society, saying what about this? What about that?”. On other newer tracks, where this collection works is in showcasing numbers that are, again, ‘proper’ songs rather than those more experimental numbers. ‘Sentinel’ is a terrific mood piece that sounds quintessentially Hawkwind in its mix and explains it in its soundscape why the way back when and the up to date contemporary now are all wrapped up into being part and parcel of what Hawkwind is. ‘Touch’ sounds like one of those experimental numbers I’m suggesting this compilation eschews, but it moves into a dreamy lushness that continues with ‘Lonely Moon’ and the gorgeous ‘Sunship’, sending the album out with a consistently beguiling, haunting, mood across its last three entries. This one, I understand, comes in standard, deluxe digipac, and vinyl editions. I enjoyed it immensely.