I was a big fan of Hawkwind back in the 1970’s, particularly during the period when the line-up included Lemmy. Iconic albums such as In Search of Space and the Space Ritual were never off the deck for long so it was interesting to see what a 40 year gap and 40-odd personnel changes had done to the band and the sound.
The album follows on from 2016’s ‘The Machine Stops’, also released by Cherry Red, and which was seen as something of a revitalisation of the band.
The album kicks off with the title track and that begins with a few bars sounding oddly like something off a Keystone Cops movie before getting hard and heavy with a thunderous riff that would grace just about any metal album. This is not the Hawkwind I remember, and why should it be, only Dave Brock remains from the line-up I recall best. The somewhat ethereal lyrics are largely spoken rather than sung, and apparently if you go into the woods you won’t find a teddy bears picnic but something that will blow your mind! A decent enough track.
‘Cottage in the Woods’ is a different magic mushroom altogether, but the ‘nature’ theme is emerging. This opening of this track is very reminiscent of pieces by Camel and Soft Machine before settling down to something more recognisably Hawkwind. This is followed by the very short ‘The Woodpecker’ and as you might imagine the electronica in this track has an array of ‘natural’ elements in it.
‘Have You Seen Them’ has more of an old school, almost Oasis, feel to it, particularly the vocal channel. So far the songs have been good without being exceptional and seem to be a pared down version of the Hawkwind of old.
‘Ascent’ is much more Hawkwind-ish (is that a word?). To go with the title this has a more celestial sound to it as the band return to the part sung/part spoken word lyrics and despite being one of the shorter tracks on the album is one of my favourites.
The up-tempo ‘Space Ship Blues’ is a welcome break to the slower preceding songs. I’m not sure the banjo fits in particularly well to the Hawkwind style but this is, after all, an electronic Country and Western song. The swirling synth contrasts starkly with the banjo, a sort of Blues Brothers meets sci-fi thing.
‘The Wind’ seems to be a bit of padding, a rather unnecessary monologue and is followed by ‘Vegen Lunch’ a bit of indie nonsense really.
‘Magic Scenes’ is another very good song and has a stronger rock soundtrack than most others here. A little light on lyrics but musically a pretty good listen.
‘Darkland’ is an acoustic instrumental, very gentle by comparison to everything else on the album and while some might see it as a bit of respite from the rock vibe that’s just gone personally I prefer the heavier synth sound the band have become famous for. That respite is short-lived however, as the band launch into ‘Wood Nymph’ followed by ‘Deep Cavern’, a bit of a non-entity of a song for me.
The album has kept the best for last with ‘Magic Mushroom’, crashing cymbals, 1970’s keyboards and fuzzy guitars, brilliant. This is the closest the band get to MY Hawkwind!
The album is a mixture of highs and lows. For me it gets nowhere close to the aggression of ‘The Machine Stops’ and in my opinion that album was superior to this one. Having said that, there are some very good passages on here and a few extremely good tracks. Taken as a whole it’s pretty good. The good parts far outweigh the mediocre parts and so is very much still worth Hawkwind fans putting their hands in their pockets.
Words by Reg Richardson