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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Hawkwind

The RCA Active Years - 1981-1982

Review by Gary Hill

This new three CD set assembles three Hawkwind albums released from 1981-1982. I'm a huge fan of the third of those discs, Choose Your Masques, but I actually like all three. This box set is classy and a great way for people to get three Hawk-discs in one shot. I have previously reviewed all three  of these CDs in one form or another. So, what I've done is include the overall review of each under the album title and then the track reviews after that. All these reviews are copied or adapted from those original reviews for the sake of consistency.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2016  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Disc One

                              
Sonic Attack
Many probably think this disc is another Hawkwind compilation. It’s not, though. Other than a reworking of the Hawkwind classic “Sonic Attack” that serves both as the title track and its opener, everything here is completely new. There is some extremely strong music here, and I’d have to say that while this isn’t the band’s best disc, it might be one of the most consistent. Truly the sound of the group in the 1980’s was infectious and accessible. These guys rocked out in a way that could really catch you up in it, but still managed to keep the space age spirit of psychedelia alive. This might not be one of the more obvious choices from Hawkwind’s catalog, but it’s without question one you should not pass up.
Sonic Attack
This is a reworking of the old Hawkwind piece of weirdness. It’s got an updated sound, but isn’t a huge departure. It’s always been an odd track, and seems even stranger as an opener.
Rocky Paths
Coming straight out of the insanity of the previous path, this is a killer hard edged Hawkwind jam. It’s not a huge departure from the rest of their material of the time, but it’s definitely a strong tune and has some scorching guitar soloing and tasty keyboard sounds. There’s also a cool fast paced bass driven jam later that’s full of drama and power.
Psychosonia
A crazed recitation of some non-sensical spelling starts off this one. There’s a major intensity to this keyboard dominated early section. It’s like there is some serious importance to the message being delivered. They power it up into another hard edged jam and this just plain cooks, even though it doesn’t stay around long.
Virgin of the World
The music that makes up the backdrop for this number is dramatic and pretty, but yet rather creepy. The poetic lyrical recitation is in much the same vein. It’s got an processed texture and feels decidedly non-human. Of course, since the most prominent line is “we are the un-dead” that’s appropriate. This is taken into some seriously strange musical textures after the voice goes away.
Angels of Death
Dark and powerful, this is a very strong Hawkwind number. It has a considerably potent instrumental break.
Living on a Knife Edge
This rises up with a classic hard rock jam and it seems like the band have been playing for some time and we’ve just walked into the room to hear it. The chorus on this is catchy and the track might be stereotypical of that era of the band, but it just plain works. They throw a couple changes our way before they bring this to a halt. It fades out much as it faded in to start.
Coded Languages
“Coded Languages” is a special effects laden cut with spoken, nearly screamed, words. "Question the nature of your orders!" It splits off into a strong rocking cut that is very strongly based in traditional Hawkwind modes. This is a considerably strong song that covers a lot of various Hawkmodes.
Disintegration
This is a short piece of music that includes processed vocals and keyboard elements. It ultimately asks, “Is the place where I disintegrate?” It serves as a connecting piece between “Coded Languages” and “Streets of Fear.”
Streets of Fear

Hard edged and with a rubbery nervous sounding sort of riff, this is another killer Hawk-classic. There is an awesome, keyboard dominated, instrumental movement later in this cut. We also get some especially tasty guitar work. As strong as this disc is, this is one of the highlights – and that says a lot.

Lost Chances
This cut feels in a lot of way like a sequel to “Living on a Knife Edge,” but if you listen very carefully to the background there are hints of “Paranoia,” going all the way back to the first Hawkwind album. It’s a good track and a solid way to end the disc in fine fashion – despite the bleak message. A cool drop back to ambient territory with a spoken word segment is a nice touch, but when it fires back out we also get some killer guitar soloing.
Disc Two
 
Church of Hawkwind
This is a good disc, but not a great one. Of course, when you know that it started off as a Dave Brock solo release you can cut it a little slack as Hawkwind. The main issue is that while nothing here is weak there aren’t a lot of standout tracks and it seems a bit too weighted toward ambient instrumental type tracks.
Angel Voices
This is much like the introductory segment to “Ejection.” It’s based on keyboard sound effects with a checklist for some sort of space launch.
Nuclear Drive
Coming straight out of the previous piece, this rises up with a guitar dominated jam. It’s tasty and spacey and cool. It reminds me of something from Choose Your Masques.
Star Cannibal
This one is more melodic and laced with lots of keyboards. It feels a lot like something you'd expect from Robert Calvert. It gets dropped way back later in the track and then we get a rather metallic grind for a while.
Phenomenon of Luminosity

Spacey keyboards lead us off here and we get a sound bite from one of the space missions. Then other keys bring in melody and this is a very melodic and fairly sedate interlude.

Fall of Earth City
Here’s another that makes me think of Robert Calvert. A droning, but quite melodic guitar segment that seems to remind me of “Sonic Attack” holds down the bottom while Dave Brock tells and epic tale with his spoken reading. This is one of my favorite cuts on show here.
The Church
This is just a short piece that consists of what sounds like a live recording of keyboards with an audience, stomping, clapping and making general “audience” noises.
The Joker at the Gate
Based on an atypical (but quite cool) keyboard layout, this track features spoken vocals and other elements to dramatic (and rather creepy) effect.
Some People Never Die
This is an ambient, techno sort of number that includes news type coverage of the Kennedy assassinations. It starts getting more and more frantic in musical modes, then drops back down. The cut ends with the sounds of someone fleeing through water.
Light Specific Data
We get another instrumental (well there are some vocals but more as instrumentation than anything else) here that feels like it could have fit on Zones or Choose Your Masques.
The Last Messiah
Another keyboard oriented instrumental there are sounds of a woman crying as the only “vocals” here.
Looking in the Future
This reminds me a lot of “Running Through the Back Brain” from Zones. This rocks out pretty well and has a cool keyboard build up later.
Choose Your Masques
I've read a lot of reviews of this CD where Hawkwind fans trash it. Personally, I have always really enjoyed this one a lot. I think that it is a mellower album than a lot of their catalog, but in many ways it reflects the "space" in space rock better than other releases. One of my favorite Hawkwind songs "Waiting For Tomorrow" is on this disc. I originally had the vinyl on this one, and it seems that the two cuts they added to the CD when they issued it are essentially throwaways. I think the disc was stronger without them. There are a couple of weak numbers on this release other than those, but the funny thing is that it all works pretty well in context. The whole seems to be much more than the sum of the parts. The production could definitely have been better, though.
Choose Your Masques
A bouncy heavy texture makes up the bulk of this one. In typical Hawkwind tradition it doesn't really go anywhere (this band can take the simplest progression and through clever usage of overlayers turn it into something incredible), but there is some very tasty guitar work here, and this one is quite easy to sing along with. It runs straight into the next track, and in fact, they are both included in track one of the CD.
Dream Worker
This is a weird, but highly effective piece of space ambience. First keys herald the appearance of an unknown speaker who announces "I have come, but I do not choose now to do what I came to do". Then the sounds of a spacecraft and the commands and responses from the commander are heard, followed by another little bit of space sound snippets. Although in writing this doesn't sound like much, Hawkwind can turn it into a combination of satisfying high art and theater. As this works through a keyboard segment starts working up, and eventually spacey vocals are interspersed over top to create the actual "song" for this one. Again, this is quite effective, in an almost hypnotic way by producing a great spacey texture. So much on this disc is really about atmosphere.
Arrival in Utopia

This fast paced space rock jam is a killer. It features a lot of awesome jamming. This ramps up in intensity after a time.

Utopia
I've never been convinced on this one. Some great space rock keyboards start this and run through for a while. That part is fine, even if it is a bit overly effects oriented. What comes after, though is an echoey voice that states, "If you want to get into it, You've got to get out of it" over and over and over. I just don't get it. I mean, I get what that means; I just don't see it being all that great.
Silver Machine
How many versions of this song are there anyway? It's a good enough tune, but I just don't see why the band needs to make so many versions of it. This one does feature some awesome Langton guitar work, but it gets a bit overlong.
Void City
This is one of the more effective pieces on the CD. The opening monologue from the TV Series "The Outer Limits" begins this. As it carries on this repeats over and over in the background with space oriented keys becoming the order of the day for much of the piece. Processed vocals begin to sing "Void City, here we come" over top of this. Once again, the atmosphere is the key here, and this one really works in that regard.
Solitary Mind Games
Based on chimey guitar harmonics, this is a strong space rock ballad. It has some wonderful textures to it, and the majority of that comes from the understated nature of the piece. They really got it right here by not overdoing it .
Farenheit 451
This one is more high energy, and while I like the vocal delivery on the verses, this is really one of the weak points on the album.
The Scan
This short keyboard solo essentially serves as an intro to the next cut.
Waiting For Tomorrow
One of my all time favorite Hawkwind songs, this one has it all, killer spacey yet doom oriented lyrics, a bouncy crunchy main riff structure and Huw Lloyd Langton laying down meaty guitar work all over this. What more could you ask for?
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