Hawkwind have been around forever and, for the longest time, were the only band working in this space rock style. There are plenty more now, because half a century of leading a path will get you followers, especially over such a huge catalogue. If I'm counting correctly, this is their thirty-fifth studio album, if we count the albums released as Church of Hawkwind, Hawkwind Light Orchestra and Psychedelic Warriors. Of course, that also excludes pivotal albums like Space Ritual, in my book one of the greatest live releases of all time.
I'm out of date with Hawkwind, so I'm a little surprised at what I heard here. What they do is solid and smooth and apparently comfortable, even over an ambitious sixty-nine minutes, so I assume it isn't much of a stretch for the modern Hawkwind, even if it seems unusual to me. That starts with a ten minute instrumental opener, which I'd call ambient space rock, a warm up and an introduction at the same time. Skipping over The End for a moment, that continues with Aldous Huxley, a piece driven by its samples, surely of the man himself, so that it's almost performance art rather than a song.
I preferred They are So Easily Distracted to both of these, even though it takes a wilder genre shift than the opening title track, that ambient space rock track that's driven by keyboards and so feels like electronica, even though there's clearly a bass in there too. This starts out as lounge music, an odd thing to say but an accurate one, because it's initially all ambient noise and light funky rhythm and soon brings in soft jazz piano and saxophone, which makes the swirling space aura even more outrageous than usual. I'm well aware that that description suggests that it really shouldn't work but it finds a wonderful groove and we gradually forget that it's built on lounge music.
I'll go back to The End here, because that isn't merely a more traditional style for Hawkwind, it's a very old school traditional style done with a very old school raw level of production, surely with an eye for nostalgic authenticity. This song wouldn't have been at all out of place on one of those key albums from from the early seventies and could even have seen release as a single. Nothing else is that old school, but Rama (The Prophecy) walks a similar path, just with a much smoother modern production job, and there's some old school drive in I'm Learning to Live Today with a neat churning bass, even though it almost finds a reggae beat at points too.
It's good to hear that old school style, whether it's simple and raw like The End or taking it forward like I'm Learning to Live Today, but that's not the majority of the album. It goes about it in a set of different ways, but much of this seems to play with psychedelic rock in a variety of ways, whether it trawls in ambient, as on The Future Never Waits; acid rock, as on Outside of Time; lounge and soft jazz, as on They are So Easily Distracted; or even late sixties Beatles, like the piano section towards the end of The Beginning, an homage made even more overt by the refrain of "whatever gets you through the night".
While I was taken aback by some of this experimentation, from a band that I'm used to hearing set new boundaries but in very different directions, I liked this a lot. It's admirably varied, to a degree I don't recall from any Hawkwind albums from my era in the seventies and eighties, and that helps the length not feel too long. Hawkwind were always so good at finding grooves and that holds true here, even with only Dave Brock left from the classic era and Richard Chadwick on drums from the late eighties. Everyone else is reasonably new, having joined within the past seven years. Some of these pieces, especially the long ones that are either entirely or mostly instrumental, could have ended up too long had they not nailed their grooves and kept us in them throughout.
I've missed the last few Hawkwind albums, like All Abourd the Skylark, Carnivorous and Somnia, all released while I've been reviewing at Apocalypse Later, though I have tackled a couple by the late Nik Turner, their former flautist and saxophonist. After this, I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for the next one, which, knowing them, is not going to be far away. They haven't missed a year since 2015, even through COVID, Carnivorous being an anagram of Coronavirus and that album recorded partly remotely and with fewer members. So, what's next, folks?