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Hawkwind are one of those bands that a number of people have heard of, most people haen't bothered listening to, and very few people seem to know a lot about, despite a well-documented chronlogoy, a huge number of album, live album and compilation releases (many not even properly authorised) and a huge influence on rock music as we know it today.
Detractors of Hawkwind often refer to them as "that hippie band" or "those sci-fi nerds". There are many more facets to the band than that. For over thrity-five years they have been producing original, groundbreaking albums with styles varying from minimalist electronica to stripped-down stoner rock to metal to synth-pop and everything in between. Each album is different, and naturally with such a quirky band the quality can vary from release to release. Nevertheless, Hawkwind have been instrumental in helping to create the "rock music underground", from their first 1970 gig which they did for free, right up to the modern day.
The mainstay of the band is vocalist, main songwriter and guitarist Dave Brock, who has seen countless band members come and go since the band's inception, including such luminaries as Lemmy (then known only as Ian Kilminster) who of course went on to form Motorhead, and through much of the Seventies, novelist Michael Moorcock, whose Elric the Enchanter novels were a major influence on some of the band's songwriting. Moorcock would often take part in the band's gigs by standing and reciting poetry as a backdrop to some of their more ambient pieces.
Hawkwind are not a singles band as such- they did have one major hit in 1973 with "Silver Machine" (some of you may have even heard of this one) and another single "Urban Guerilla" in 1974 which scraped the charts before being pulled from the shelves because of a number of IRA atrocities which take place at around the same time. They have generally always concentrated on albums, and there are a *lot* of Hawkwind albums. I won't go through all the live albums (except for a few outstanding ones) and the compilations here, because there are simply far too many of them. I will however go through the studio albums briefly (and this will take a while!) because each one is different- far moreso than most bands' back-catalogues.
Hawkwind (1970) is their first effort- an odd combination of some acoustic, hippie-ish rock tracks (you can see from this album how the mud stuck) together with some minimalist electronica and knob-twiddling which showcased even then the band's fascination with new technologies. One for completists really. 2/5
In Search of Space (1971) is a more cohesive effort, more generically rock (if a Hawkwind album can be called generic), and possibly one of the first "space rock" albums ever made. 3/5
Doremi Fasol Latido (1972) continued this trend, with more accessible songs and some shorter pieces. 3/5
Space Ritual Alive (1973) was a grand double album which began to show the band's true potential. 4/5
Hall Of The Mountain Grill (1974) was by far their best effort yet, featuring classics such as "Psychadelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)" and "Paradox". This was a somewhat commercial album but still very original- featuring groovy, riff-laden rock tracks interspersed with melodic ambient, almost classical songs such as "Wind of Change" (thankfully not related to that awful awful song by The Scorpions). This one is recommended to y'all. 5/5.
Warrior on the Edge of Time (1975) comes as a bit of a disapointment following the previous album, but nevertheless features some great songs such as "The Golden Void". This showcases the bands fantasy and sci-fi leanings at least as much as anything else they've done. 3/5.
Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music (1976), a title probably based on the "Amazing Stories"-style pulp sci-fi comics and short story compilations of the 1950s, is a great album, featuring catchy, almost glam tracks such as "Reefer Madness" and closing with the beautiful "Chronoglide Skyway" which I think Pink Floyd might have been proud of to be honest! 4/5.
Quark, Strangeness and Charm (1977) shows the band leaning towards a harder, more cynical feel to their music, judging by the bittersweet lyrics to "Spirit of the Age" and the almost creepy "Days of the Underground". Still a very good album. 4/5.
PXR5 (1979) continues the transition into harder, leaner Hawkwind with the fast, punky "Death Trap" and the brisk title track. Standout track on this one has to be "High Rise". 3/5.
Levitation (1980) is the first album by what was effectively almost a brand-new Hawkwind lineup. Aside from Dave Brock, none of the musicians who had take part in the previous albums remained. This resulted in a sound which was different and still recognisably Hawkwind, and this album is in fact the best one they ahd done since "Hall of the Mountain Grill". This is stuffed full of alternative rock anthems, right from the title track through live favourite "Motorway City" and one of my favourites, "Dust of Time". Another must-have. 5/5.
Sonic Attack (1981) continued what was now Hawkwind's transition to heavy metal, featuring sleek, well-produced tracks which somehow don't seem to have as much class to them as they should. 2/5.
Church of Hawkwind (1982), Choose Your Masques (also 1982) featured much of the same, if a little better. 3/5.
Chronicle of the Black Sword (1985) was a much better work- this time a collection of fairly short, punchy metal tracks with ambient interludes, this is beautifully-produced and is perfect for fantasy-influenced heavy metal (which is really what it is). Another one to recommend. 5/5.
The Xeon Codex (1988) was a bit more of an arty affair, still a good enough album although the finl track, which is more spoken words and effects than anything else, grates a bit. 3/5.
Space Bandits (1990) is one of my favourites. This one has an environmental and social theme running through it, particularly on the depressing "Wings" (about the w***ers who create oil spillages because they'd rather run cheap and dodgy ships to make more money). Some great tracks on here, particularly the blistering first track "Images". 4/5.
Palace Springs (1991) is, along with "Hall...", my favourite Hawkwind album. A few of the tracks are remakes of older songs of theirs, but oh, what remakes! This is a fantastic album, featuring alt-rock gems such as "Treadmill" and the monstrous "Lives of Great Men". 5/5.
Electric Tepee (1992) is probably the first real hint of the "next phase" of Hawkwind, which was to be their foray into the world of ambient dance and rave. Don't be too horrified by this, because this is still very much a rock album- standout tracks include "Mask of the Morning" and "Right to Decide"- but there are also a lot of spaced-out pieces here, some of them beautifully evocative. A very strong album. 4/5.
It I sThe Business of the Future to be Dangerous (1993) may have a terribly clumsy title, but it's a far more interesting album than you might think. The music is much more dancey, laid-back and spaced-out here. If you like bands such as The Orb and Orbital (I do to a certain extent) then you may well like this album. 3/5.
Alien 4 (1996) brings the band back to a more rock-oriented direction- a little. This album is a little neither here nor there. 2/5.
Distant Horizons (1997) is a bit more of the same, if a little better. The band sound a little jaded, perhaps lacking a little inspiration after all these years. 2/5.
That, to my knowledge is the band's last genuine new studio album. They are still around, still touring, still gigging... but they just have't made any new studio albums recently. Why? Answers on a postcard, beacuse I certainly don't know!
As you can see, Hawkwind's output over the decades has been prolific but varied. Some of their work has been amazing, some of it has been less than amazing, but there is no doubting their place in rock history as one of the pioneers of underground rock music and one of the genuinely non-commercially oriented bands (as well as possible the hardest-working).
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that rather lengthy read!