Hawkwind‘s leading light, the Saturnine Dave Brock, is eighty tomorrow. Let that sink in…
Here he is, with his life’s work, presenting a thirty fourth studio album (though I could be wrong – this band has always been fluid at best and there are recordings dotted throughout their career attributed to the band (or not, as the case may be) that purists might dispute as actually being by the band) that, in places, is every bit as compelling as the band’s classic ouevre. Brock and his two trusty cohorts, drummer Richard Chadwick and Magnus Martin (voice, bass, keyboards) create the usual whisper-to-a-dervish-whirl dynamics beautifully across the album’s thirteen tracks, weaving a narrative around the album’s central theme of sleep as skilfully as you like, never stopping for long in one style yet maintaining a cohesion that is pure Hawkwind.
Opener Unsomnia cleverly embeds BBC Radio Four‘s shipping forecast into it’s soundscape (a big part of the sleep routine for me when I lived in the UK, as I’m sure it was and is for many others), but not before the band have gone through some classic Kraut rock at the start of the song, where Chadwick’s metronomic drums really drive the sound forward with precision and intent. It’s heady stuff, and, if you haven’t heard Hawkwind in a while, it’ll reassure you that everything is as it should be.
Strange Encounters is the diametric opposite, a raging piece of space rock fuelled by Brock’s superb wah-wahed lead technique and Chadwick’s powerhouse stickwork. Between these two poles the band wreak a crafty havoc; the Brit prog ghost of Pink Floyd is never far from the surface, especially in some of Brock’s phrasing vocally, but this is never a problem. Hawkwind are as big a part of the British prog legacy as Syd Barrett-era Floyd, and it’s comforting to hear that sound holding its own in the maelstromic atmosphere of creativity that always surrounds a Hawkwind release. This is a band that will forever probe the future, but that probing is always from a place that is fully aware of the past, and where the band comes from, which is curiously reassuring.
Shakespeare makes an appearance on Counting Sheep, whilst the semi-tone poem China Blues has a whiff of The Enid to it, adding to the glorious Englishness of the whole thing. Next track It’s Only A Dream is perhaps the least appealing on offer, but the Indian overtones of Meditation steady the ship and the latter half of the record, largely made up of shorter, punchier tracks balances the more stately first half nicely, particularly the bluesy hard rock of I Can’t Get You Off My Mind.
A great effort, then, and one that sees Hawkwind again cementing their reputation as one of England’s most important and enduring rock outfits. Happy birthday, Mr Brock – and here’s to many more…
Somnia releases on September 10th.