Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hawkwind - 'Warrior On The Edge Of Time'

Rating - 8/B

This is a dicey album, really, for all that I rather like it. Hawkwind were a bit of a community deal, with assorted friends and hangers-on being allowed to contribute poetry, dance routines and suchlike to their stage act. That's the principle on which fantasy writer Michael Moorcock (one of my personal favourite writers), who shared similar creative and recreational interests with the members of Hawkwind became involved in shaping concepts with the band and writing poetic interludes for either himself or a handy Hawk, usually Rob Calvert, to declaim. There are three such interludes on this album, two of which are actually recited by Moorcock himself. These echo-drenched spoken-word pieces with background musical gestures probably contribute conceptually to what appears to be an album loosely structured around Moorcock's Eternal Champion, but are among the most drastic self-imposed barriers to the appreciation of an otherwise fine set of songs I've encountered since King Diamond chose to sing on every album he's ever made. Oh, I crack me up. These interludes might well have been very cool live, with swirling lights, the amazonian Stacia twirling around garbed in nothing but body paint, the smell of spliff rising through the air and a blotter melting slowly in your mouth, but they break up the musical flow of the album in a distinctly jarring fashion.

Once you either accept and learn to live with this, or to program your CD player to skip these tracks, what we have is one of the strongest studio efforts from the classic Hawkwind era. The album opener,'Assault & Battery' hits hard with a typically monolithic Dave Brock riff, ushered in and underpinned by a great Lemmy bassline, layered with spacey keyboard swirls and topped with an instantly anthemic refrain. 'The Golden Void' follows through commendably, first taking us soaring through astral realms with sax peeps from Nik Turner and cosmic keys by Simon House, and then settling onto a crunching, heavy riff around which swirl whisps of psychedelic sound. And then - oof - Moorcock recites a piece called 'The Wizard Blew His Horn' while the band makes a few dramatic noises behind him. It's a bit of a googly, but we're quickly reassured by the steady pulse of Lemmy's bass ushering in the intrumental, 'Opa-Loka' (written, oddly, by the two drummers, Simon King and Alan Powell). Seagull squalls frame the introspective, acoustic musings of Brock's 'The Demented Man', one of the most gorgeous songs in the Hawkwind canon. 'Magnu' brings the bombast back with its epic length and pleas to some sort of magical steed, and another striaghtforward, chugging Brock riff, emebellished with vaguely eastern keyboard noodles. Then it's poetry time again with 'Standing On The Edge', another Moorcock incursion, another matter of taste (or lack thereof). Keyboardist Simon House quickly restores things with his intrumental composition, 'Spiral Galaxy 28948', a soaring, trippy track that positively oozes LSD-fuelled starbound vibes. The proceedings are somewhat compromised by another poetic bit and Nik Turner's song, 'Dying Seas' which seems to lack in focus or a central hook or riff. But the closing song on the original album, 'Kings Of Speed' makes for a strong ending. It's a very normal hard-rocking beast, at heart, but is treated with Moorcock lyrics - thankfully sung by Brock - and those ever-churning keyboard layers. The CD release extra track is a little ditty called 'Motorhead' - yes, the same tune and name carried over by Lemmy for his new band when he was fired from the band soon after. It's fun to hear that slab of primal heavy metal with added violin and flute. Flute! Hah!! That crazy Nik Turner! Hawkwind were never musical virtuosos, but when confronted with a good riff and a strong hook, they could always be counted on to work it to perfection, and layer it with all the outer-space charm you'd want.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Eiderdown: A pretty essential studio offering from what may well have been Hawkwind's strongest and most creative line-up. The spoken-word bits are a very questionable addition to the cosmic experience, but you mustn't let them bias you against either Michael Moorcock or this album, which is why I'm more or less ignoring them and increasing my rating from an initial 7.

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