Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hawkwind - 'Hawkwind'

Rating: 6/C

This is very much a debut album. There are elements of the fully-developed Hawkwind sound here - the proto-ambient, fractal jams and druggy feel, for instance. There's Nik Turner's peculiar sax work and electronics (by Dik Mik in this case). What's missing are the swirling, phased synth sounds, the rock-solid hard rock oriented rhythm section and the explicit science fantasy lyrics. Also, I've always thought of Dave Brock as a minor hero of the electric rhythm guitar, but he isn't really fully-fledged in that capacity here, even though the songs, such as they are, revolve around his rhtymic foundation. There are broad hints of his later mastery of the chugging, hypnotic riff here, hints that would, over the next two or three albums grow into blatant allegations and finally, outrageous revelations. For the time being, though, it's only a promise. As is Huw Lloyd-Langton's fluid but frequently directionless lead work. He would leave the band after this album, only to return 9 years later and help to power some of Hawkwind's better mid-career work.

There are only two tracks on this album that I'd call songs in the traditional sense - the opening track, 'Hurry On Sundown', and the closing track, 'Mirror Of Illusions'. The first is an acoustic-and-harmonica based folk-blues jam. It's nearly the only song on which Brock actually embraces his frontman role and sings something that amounts to a thought-out vocal part with its own melody and lyrics that bear some attention, but this sort of blues sound was pretty much second nature to a lot of British musicians at the time, and the song doesn't really tie in with the the rest of the album or Hawkwind's career. It's a catchy little piece in its own right, though.

Most of the subsequent tracks are really one large,organic jam, divided loosely into songs. Considering them as discrete, standalone pieces is often a disservice, but they do serve some purpose in the larger whole. 'The Reason Is?' works well only as an atmospheric build-up to the simple, but catchy 3-chord hook that 'Be Yorself' revolves around. The latter is one of the more distinctive moments on the album, moving from a somple chant to an equally simple but ebullient jammy workout on the same basic progression. Nik Turner plays some of his trademark 'I have no idea if that's really clever or utterly dumb' sax breaks in the jam section. The two parts of 'Paranoia' revolve around very, very simple musical ideas, and by the time the epic 'Seeing It As You Really Are' cuts in, everything seems to have devolved into a shapeless 'make a spacey noice here' sort of mess. The second real song on the album then ends things reasonably strongly. 'Mirror Of Illusion' is still lighter than the classic Hawkwind sound, but it has a pulsing, driving bass motif and spacey atmosphere that point the way ahead.

My copy of this album includes a few bonus tracks of varying interest. The blues cover, 'Bring It On Home', confirms my intuition that blues was something Brock simply did a lot of in the early days, and hence was comfortable with. The alternate vesion of 'Hurry On Sundown' is a trifle superfluous and 'Kiss Of The Velvet Whip' is again a distinct song, but still underdeveloped. The cover of Pink Floyd's 'Cymbaline' is worth having though - it doesn't totally ape the original, and is the sort of cover that seems very fitting, like if The Cure re-did a Joy Division song.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: A so-so collection of paleolithic jams. Hawkwind at this point sound more like psychedelic stragglers than space rock pioneers. Still, a nice, organic album that works well as surrounding atmosphere. Get it after you've got all the classic Lemmy-era stuff and the two or three post-Lemmy essentials.

PS: Don't despair, there are non-Hawkwind reviews coming up!

No comments: