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Hawkwind

Take Me To Your Leader

Review by Gary Hill

It's got to be hard to be Hawkwind. With a massive catalog that last time I checked (including compilations and live albums) boasted well over a hundred official releases, it must be very difficult to try to please your fans with each new release. When you add in the fact, that despite staying true to their sound they have over the years crafted a very wide path that has become defined as "space rock." There is a consistency, but yet different eras of the band have rather sizable differences in sound. This means that there are fans who are loyal to varying modes of Hawkwind. These things have to put a lot of pressure on the band for each release. As one of their long-time hardcore fans (I own somewhere between a third and a half of those releases), I have to be among the hard to please. Well, I won't say that this is my favorite Hawk album, but I will say it's in the top 80 percent. As I alluded to, a lot depends on what era of the band a fan prefers, so this has more to do with individual tastes than it does with the quality of the release.

Much like Judas Priest on Angel of Retribution, Hawkwind seems to have made an effort to incorporate sounds from throughout their career on this disc. Granted, for this band that's a much more daunting task, and they didn't hit all of them, but they did touch on quite a few of the more diverse ones. Another interesting aspect of this disc is all the guest performers ranging from Arthur Brown (remember him from Crazy World of Arthur Brown "I am the god of hell fire and I bring you - FIRE!"?) to Lene Lovich. Of course, I have heard that since the recording of the disc Brown has actually joined the band - so he might not qualify as "guest." In any event, it's pretty easy to see that this is not the run of the mill new Hawkwind album.

Considering how the disc manages to capture so much of the varying history of Hawkwind that it really would make a great first step for those looking to experience this prolific and potent group. I can attest to the fact that while (depending on your particular Hawk tastes) this might not be the favorite album in a Hawk fanatic's collection, it is one that will continue to please for years to come. It also has a way of getting under your skin and seriously growing on you. Now, if they can ever work out the various red tape to tour the States again, I'll be one happy Hawk camper.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Spirit of the Age
Hawkwind has always had a habit of revisiting their old songs in new variants (how many versions of "Silver Machine" are there, anyway?), and this album opens with a new take on "Spirit of the Age." I've always liked this track a lot, and I'm not sure that this version is my favorite one (there are quite a few of those, too), but it's definitely not far from it. Matthew Wright (vocals) and James Clemus (organ) make guest appearances here.
Out Here We Are
We get some of Alan Davey's trademark electronic trance music on this one, but it is given a nice jazzy twist, too. You'll also be sure to catch many waves of whooshing keys - a definite Hawkwind staple. Jez Huggett's saxophone certainly adds to those jazz elements.
Greenback Massacre
Another Davey composition, "Greenback Massacre" is one of the hard driving rockers that are fairly typical of '90's Hawkwind. The thing is, this track also has some killer '70's era Hawk trademarks, too. The jam that it breaks into takes us back in terms of sound all the way to the first couple discs from the late '60's. I can even hear echoes of "Paranoia" in there. Jason Stuart provides keys on this one. This cut's lyrics point up the problems of rampant unchecked capitalistic fervor, "defence of your nation's energy / defence of exaggerated needs … Paper versus flesh / What a bloody mess."
To Love A Machine
The Brock penned "To Love A Machine" seems to call to mind not only the Choose Your Masques era, but also (in the dramatic acoustic driven balladish segment) the Warrior on the Edge of Time sound - but both with a modern twist. Jason Stuart's keys are also heard on this track. In many ways this is one of the best and most traditional prog oriented cuts the band have done in a long time. It's probably my favorite off the disc, although there is some stiff competition. It even drops to a café jazz type segment later that gives way to the outro that can probably best be described as "electronic erotica."
Take Me To Your Leader
One of only a couple tracks on the disc to solely include the core group (Dave Brock, Richard Chadwick and Alan Davey), this one is a techno based keyboard heavy jam that's rather cool. It has periods of just plain Hawk weirdness much like some of the material from Xenon Codex. The vocal arrangement on this one is quite cool.
Digital Nation
"Digital Nation" (a Richard Chadwick number) combines a modern electronic sound with hippie trippy elements more at home with the first incarnation of the group. It also manages to incorporate some sections that call to mind the Hall of The Mountain Grill album. Jez Huggett's flute definitely is one factor of that hippie sound.
Sunray
The Arthur Brown penned "Sunray" seriously calls to mind the aforementioned "Silver Machine." Brown also handles vocal duties on this one. In addition Simon House (who has at various points in Hawkwind's career been a full fledged member of the band) provides violin to this cut. This one isn't one of my favorites here, but it has its charms, and with its vintage 60's rock organ (courtesy of James Clemus) is an intriguing twist on the Hawkwind sound.
Sighs
The other cut on the disc (besides the title number) to feature just the core trio, this one is co-written by Davey and Chadwick. It's a weird piece of sound effects, spoken word loops and keyboards. I'm not so sure I'd call it a "song", but it's certainly an interesting piece of atmosphere.
Angela Android
This has a punky sort of texture, again calling to mind "Silver Machine" a bit with definite "R" rated lyrics. It features both Jez Huggett and Lene Lovich as guest performers. The song is weird sexual ode to a robotic lover. Lovich's vocals add a major sci-fi texture to the piece. This is undoubtedly weird, but also fun. Lovich at other points seems to bring in an almost B-52's like feel. This is really a hard cut to put on a musical landscape. It's very dynamic and quite strange. As odd as it is, it also has a certain charm that makes it one of my favorites on show here.
A Letter To Robert
First off, I have to say that feminists will no doubt be riled at the lyrics to this one. The cut was written by Brock/Brown and Chadwick and features a techno beat with Brown speaking over top about various memories of Robert Calvert and various related (seemingly loosely) observations. The techno beat goes away at times with just odd layers of keyboard noise serving as the backdrop. Sections here are sung in a weird style, but the majority of the vocals are just spoken. Also it should be mentioned that those who are easily offended by foul language should probably stay clear due to the dropping of the "f" bomb. Those lyrics really, if you listen carefully, are more of a rambling conspiracy theory thesis.
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