Wednesday 20 March 2019

Nik Turner - The Final Frontier (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Space Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 8 Mar 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

For those who don't know the name, Nik Turner was the flautist and saxophonist in the legendary space rock band Hawkwind in its early United Artists years, alongside such luminaries as Lemmy, Robert Calvert and Huw Lloyd-Langton. As such, you might not be particularly surprised if I tell you that this new album, released over forty years after he first left that band and thirty-five since his last departure, sounds very much like early Hawkwind.

Turner has freely admitted in the past that he's more interested in the feel of music than any individual aspects of it and that approach makes The Final Frontier an immersive experience, a cosmic acid trip to sit alongside any of those old Hawkwind albums, if not as dense and all encompassing as something like Space Ritual, still one of the trippiest albums I've ever heard.

The question, as with all such albums, is how well it's going to stand up on further listens. The first time through tends to be an experience, but do we want to go back for a repeat performance?

I would, but mostly for the instrumental sections. Turner was always a more interesting musician than he ever was a singer and most of his vocals here are closer to narration, often spoken word poetry, in which he monologues about interstellar beings or lost civilisations and wonders where the heck his spaceship has got to. I presume there's a vague storyline here but, if there is, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. It's not about the words, except when they're poetic like on Back to the Ship.

The music, however, is wild. Out of Control, which opens up the album with guitars at the fore over an evocative background of atmospheric keyboards and exploratory saxophone, is a real highlight, everything I want from Nik Turner. Interstellar Aliens is a weird ride, a psychedelic pop song in which he seems to float in a dreamlike state after being abducted by kindly aliens who return him home afterwards. Drenched in synth effects, this couldn't be more different but both tracks do their jobs really well.

Back to the Ship, on the other hand, apparently forgets what it's trying to do for three and half minutes. Maybe it's appropriate, given that the song is about being lost, but a long intro that sounds like a improvisation at a concert after too much LSD backstage doesn't play well on repeat. I'm not sure the rest of the song makes sense either, but at least Turner seems to be engrossed in his trip when accompanied by lively pulsing instrumentation.

My favourite tracks here are the ones that contain all that lively pulsing instrumentation but without any (or much) of the rambling speech. Strange Loop is entirely instrumental except for what could be described as a sort of choral cosmic backdrop, which is just as cool as that sounds. Thunder Rider, named for Turner's old Hawkwind nickname, does have vocals but not too many of them. Mostly it's more lively and pulsing instrumentation but with a long saxophone solo for extra merit.

It's worth mentioning that, while I prefer those two tracks for their lack of vocals, I also prefer them because they feature Turner's saxophone more than his flute because sax always makes for a trippier ride. PAD4, which wraps up the album, works the other way and, while it's delightful, trippy flute prompts us to leave peacefully, floating in space, rather than caught up in some cosmic maelstrom, as the trippy sax would leave us.

Maybe, given that we wonder where the next song is, Turner is adhering to the old show business maxim about always leaving the audience wanting more. That's where I ended up here. The instrumentation is timeless stuff and I want to return again and again, but the vocals often change my mind for me. What I want now is another dozen Nik Turner solo albums that I can happily experience once.

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