❉ Psilocybin-fried space rock… must be the spirit of the age.
Hawkwind. Everybody knows about Hawkwind, right? Y’know, they were that band Lemmy was in until he got fired in ’75. Liked their drugs. Did that song “Silver Machine”. Too scary to be effective hippies. Too unkempt and unhinged to be accepted by the public school prog cogniscenti. They probably vanished after that, or something. Yeah.
Well… No. Hawkwind never stopped. Through a mind-boggling number of lineup changes (guitarist/vocalist Dave Brock is the only constant), a myriad of offshoot bands, and thirty (count ’em, if you have the time) studio albums, they have doggedly persisted. They were the first band I ever went to see, at the age of 15 – this was on the tour for 1985’s The Chronicle Of The Black Sword, a frankly insane concept album based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric Of Melnibone books, with the show featuring copious lasers, psychedelic back projections and a live actor portraying Elric throughout; as a first gig, that was a life-altering experience, for sure…
And now, 2017 brings us Into The Woods, their thirtieth studio excursion, wherein the titles suggest another semi-concept record. The title track opens with a gentle tinkle of classical piano before hammering in with a chunky guitar riff; after the band’s long history of dabblings in folk, world music, ambient, rave and electronica, we’re clearly back into the grinding fuzz-rock that made their name. A sprawling instrumental passage leads into a lurching, Sabbathesque rhythm and sinister, heavily effected vocals. Clocking in at over six minutes, the track has ample time to stretch its legs and really establish an atmosphere.
“Cottage In The Woods” is a little more whimsical, all swirling synths and distant background chanting, riven with an underlying tension at odds with its lilting keyboard hook, before a hefty backbeat kicks in at the midpoint. “The Woodpecker” is just a minute of aimless sound effects forming an intro to “Have You Seen Them”, which comes across as an affectionate pastiche of late-period Beatles. Things get even more mellow (maaan) with “Ascent”’s laidback folkery, leading into “Space Ship Blues”, which is basically a resprayed “Silver Machine” with a baffling bluegrass banjo splattered all over it. Odd, considering how hard they worked to escape the shadow of that single, that they’d return so slavishly to it. “I wanna cruise the universe in your super space machine”, indeed.
“The Wind” is a soothing poetic piece to a semi-abstract backing, but as poetry goes it doesn’t quite match up to the work of the late Bob Calvert, and the bouncy “Vegan Lunch” teeters on the edge of self-parody. “Magic Scene” is better, the kind of majestic and portentous mini-epic they always did well, with extended guitar freakouts all over the shop. “Darkland” is exquisite, a short acoustic-led instrumental of extraordinary delicacy.
“Wood Nymph”, an everyday tale of Being Stolen Away By The Forest Folk, starts off promisingly enough with an infectious refrain, but does overstay its welcome slightly. “Deep Cavern” bears more poetry, and rather a lot of magpie noises, before the exhilarating nine-and-half-minute all-instrumental closer “Magic Mushroom” returns us to the psilocybin-fried space rock once more.
There’s a delightfully underproduced feel to this album, a home-made, rough-hewn sort of vibe that suits the Hawkwind ethos perfectly, replete with clattering unprocessed drums and saturation-level synth oscillations. It could well have been conjured up in Dave Brock’s shed in 1972. This is certainly not the album you’d use to introduce someone to Hawkwind, but it’s still a thing of joy, and the fact that they’re still stubbornly doing their own thing with no regard to fashion, tastes or the passage of time is cause for celebration in itself.
❉ ‘Into The Woods’ by Hawkwind is out now from Cherry Red Records (CDBRED700).