❉ Despite the fact Hawkwind is down to a trio, this is a big sound, writes James R Turner.
Now down to a trio of founder member Dave Brock, stalwart drummer Richard Chadwick and relative new boy Magnus Martin, the band have followed the pattern set down by their previous album Carnivorous (released last year as the Hawkwind Light Orchestra) for their latest album, Somnia, recorded at the individual members’ home studios and pieced together at Hawkwind HQ.
The band are currently going through a late-career purple patch of creativity and how much of that is down to the new blood of Martin is hard to say. However, it’s no coincidence that Somnia is the band’s sixth studio album in as many years (he joined in 2017) and demonstrates that age hasn’t dimmed the band’s spark.
This current prodigious workload is reminiscent of their first forays into music in the early ‘70s, and again their resurrection in the early ‘80s. Since then, they’ve continued on their own sonic journey, touring and releasing new material, dedicated to ploughing their own furrow in the space rock genre that they sculpted and in which they continue to innovate.
Released on 10 September, this new album makes many allusions to sleep; through Roman mythology and the god of sleep Somnus, the lyrics tell the tale of sleepless paranoia, strange encounters, fever dreams and meditation. From the off Magnus Martin makes his mark on here, with four of the thirteen tracks being composed or co-composed by him, whilst Dave Brock, who shows no signs of slowing down, pens the remainder.
With the slimmed-down group, there is a shift slightly away from the sonic drone that is the band’s template, and the opener, the dark rocker Unsomnia, which features a list of night terrors within the lyrics, sets out the stall for what we’re going to be hearing over the course of the album.
The thirteen tracks here draw from the past as well as stepping into the future, and on instrumental passages like Small Objects in Space or Strange Encounters, they sound like no-one else but Hawkwind.
Despite the fact Hawkwind is down to a trio, this is a big sound, and Brock’s guitar work is as important as ever to the proceedings, as the guitar work on Sweet Dreams illustrate, he is still more than capable of turning the amp up and going for it.
Meanwhile the Eastern-flavoured Meditation sees Chadwick swapping his trademark heavier percussive sound for tablas and the like, that fill the spaces in between the sonic origami that Martin and Brock weave to create, as the title suggests, it’s a lower-key piece to counterpoint the darker elements of the album. I found some of the trance sounds to be reminiscent of It is the Business of the Future to be Dangerous.
Elsewhere Dave returns once again to a bluesier sound on I Can’t Get You Off My Mind, where the lyrics nicely invert the message around The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love, amongst the themes of love and loss and obsession.
If this line-up of Hawkwind are drawing anything from the band’s long legacy I would say it’s the latter period albums from the ‘80s & ‘90s, whilst Brock’s love of the blues is reflected in China Blues, which lyrically draws from the same well of inspiration as last year’s Carnivorous, echoing that album’s lyrics and influences around the pandemic) however the band don’t labour the point, and it fits nicely in here around the theme of things that are keeping people awake.
For their thirty-fourth album, the band aren’t trying to be anyone other than themselves, and it makes this album an excellent addition to their mighty catalogue, and one which reminds us (should it be needed) that when Hawkwind have the bit between their teeth, they continue to thrive, innovate, and create magnificent records.
❉ Hawkwind: ‘Somnia’ (Cherry Red Records CDBRED845) released by Cherry Red Records from September 10, 2021. RRP £10.95. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.