Hawkwind: 'Quark, Strangeness & Charm'
No more chugging Lemmy bass, no more astral Nik Turner synth and sax ... and somehow, Hawkwind deliver a pretty strong, consistent and enjoyable album for the second time after their classic line-up was decimated. I suppose a great deal of this is owed to the strong presence of Rob Calvert, back in the band, and seemingly together if not sane for the moment. He brings a quirky, enlivening sense of humour to his strongly SF-influenced lyrics ('Spirit Of The Age' is sung from the viewpoint of one of several clones manning a deep-space voyage, I think, and boasts lyrics like 'Your android replica is playing up again, it's no joke, when she comes, she moans another's name') and his singing accent has a charming directness and down-to-earth humour to it. I almost typed that it's a Brit accent, but I seem to recall that he was from South Africa. Nik Turner's trademark swirls (and peculiar sax work) are gone and we're left with Simon House's more wide-ranging and state-of-the-art beeps and swashes - I miss that classic phasey sound, but what you have here is old-school hard rock dressed up with spacey lasers, so it's still the same Hawkwind formula, evolving and mutating a bit.
Like any Hawkwind album not everything is equally strong, but the signal-to-noise ratio is starkly less than on some albums simply because there are no dispensible spoken-word interludes. The album is cleverly front-loaded. starting with the more uptempo and catchy 'Spirit Of The Age' and 'Damnation Alley' (inspired by the Zelazny story, of course), followed by another Hawkwind Special astral ballad, 'Fable Of A Failed Race'. I think Brock takes the mike back for this one. The title track is a real winner - it strips away the cosmic debris to deliver a bouncy, hooky little tune which anticipates the casual ebullience of 90s Brit Pop, or ever more recent bands like Art Brut. The lyrics do rather underestimate Albert Einstein's love life, though. 'Hassan I Sabha' is all Arabic-snakecharmer melodies and a neat bass groove (new bassist Adrian Shaw isn't Lemmy, but he's alright). What's it about? I love Michael Moorcock's comment about this song: 'I thought Bob Calvert introduced it into the repertoire. Maybe not. There was a lot of romantic stuff about assassins and hashish, of course, at the time, which frankly I thought was plain silly. But then in certain ways I never did make a perfect hippy.'. It's a great song though, corny and catchy and quirky, which is what we want from Hawkwind. Simon House's instrumental 'The Forge Of Vulcan' has those Floydian bleeps and thrums and anvil sound-effects, but it's little more than generalised spacey atmospherics, without a distinct melody or hook. 'Days Of The Underground' has a chugging Brock riff, and looks back at Hawkwind's long, strange trip and raises the energy a bit, although the vocal delivery on this song actually gets a little tiresome. Simon King's intrumental, 'The Iron Dream' (presumably named after the Norman Spinrad novel, which, incidentally, purports to be an SF novel by a disillusioned German ex-soldier who moves to the US some years after the first world war, and is called Adolf Hitler) is brief, but ends things well. How come Hawkwind drummers write good enough instrumentals that aren't drum solos?
The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Some of the atmosphere is gone, but Calvert turns in an engaging, witty vocal and lyrical turn, making this a very accesible and fun Hawkwind album. The usual amount of so-so material, but some neat moments too. Just don't take it all seriously.