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Hawkwind

The GWR Years 1988-1991

Review by G. W. Hill
It's hard for me to pick favorite Hawkwind albums. I mean, I'm a big fan of the band, and I like pretty much all of their albums. Sure, some stand out taller than others. There are periods of the band that seem to gel better to me than others. This three album period is one of those, really. Now, all three discs are included together in one box set. It comes in a classy box (making it a literal box set). You really can't argue with that. I guess I would have liked some kind of a book, but we do get a cool fold out poster (two-sided). That works. If you haven't got these individual discs, pick this up. You'll thank me for the recommendation. If you have them, this is still worth having from a collectors point of view, and just because it's a great set. I should mention that I've reviewed all these individual discs, and for the sake of consistency those reviews are included here as follows - with the overall review followed by the track by track for each disc. That said, they did make a needed change on Xenon Codex in terms of splitting up two songs that were included as one track on earlier releases and one on Palace Springs that does the same thing, but also fixes an old problem with the track listing.
Track by Track Review
Disc 1: The Xenon Codex
I’ve seen some less than stellar reviews of this disc, but for my money it’s a great album and well in the upper percentile of Hawkwind releases. It’s got both a modern and classic Hawkwind sound – or at least a great middle ground between them. It similarly does a nice balancing of harder rocking and more melodic music. A couple of notes should be brought up on the track by track, though. For one thing I reviewed the first song in my track by track of Epoch Eclipse. For the sake of consistency I’ve modified that review to use here. Here's a new note/variant - the following section appeared in the original reveiw "Secondly, there are ten songs listed on the cover and even on the label to my CD – yet there are only nine tracks on the disc. I’ve always thought that either “Heads” doesn’t exist or it’s merged with “Mutation Zone” here. I’ve listed it as a combination of the two track titles for reference." Well, this time around there are ten songs. As it turns out, though, the problem wasn't with "Heads" and "Mutation Zone." Those were always distinct tunes, but I didn't realize it. The problem came earlier. The songs "Neon Skyline" and "Lost Chronicles" actually tracked together. I have fixed my track by track review based on this new information.
The War I Survived
Starting with ticking clocks, keyboards join in and song eventually becomes a fast paced rocker that really pleases. This tune is a favorite of this reviewer. It drops into a nice keyboard dominated break for a time, then builds and screams out from there. This song features some exceptionally tasty guitar work.
Wastelands of Sleep
More ambient in nature, this is just plain cool. There are some vocals early, but most of this is instrumental and there’s some great guitar soloing that reminds me of birds.
Neon Skyline
Keys and percussion start this off and they launch out into a killer rocking groove. This is a short song, landing just over two minutes in length.
Lost Chronicles
This comes out of the previous track with a keyboard dominated instrumental motif – with lots of piano. It reminds me a bit of the Hall of the Mountain Grill era of the band. That section holds the cut for a couple minutes, but they eventually fire out into a reprise of the song proper.
Tides
This instrumental reminds me a lot of the song that would later appear on Space Bandits called “Wings.” It’s gentle, keyboard oriented and very pretty.
Heads
A harder rocking number, this is strong. It’s very much classic Hawkwind and has both a killer rock mode and some great space elements.
Mutation Zone
Percussion and spoken processed vocals and all kinds of effects and bits of music make up this track. It includes the line “Mutation Zone” as the chorus of the track. It’s a little weird, but also very cool.
E.M.C.
Sound effects and keyboards and all kinds of things make up this rather ambient – yet driving in terms of percussion – track. It feels like an extension of the previous number in many ways but also incorporates some elements from other parts of the disc.
Sword of the East
I’ve always loved this piece of music. It’s hard rocking and dramatic and yet it manages to drop back for some mellow music, too. It’s one of my favorite Hawkwind songs.
Good Evening
A radio tuner being scanned followed by a phone ringing starts this off. Then someone answers the phone saying, “Good Evening”. The band launch out into a raw rocker with the lyrics “Mom and Daddy said to me / Mom and Daddy said to me / Get a job / Get a job”. They move into some different territory for a short time until a false ending gives us a new jam. There’s lot of strangeness (but entertaining strangeness) over the top of a killer instrumental jam.
Disc 2: Space Bandits
The only studio album to feature this lineup, this one leaves me wishing they had done more. It is difficult with the incredible amount of material this band have released to really pick out one or two best albums, but this one would definitely be in the running. Really all the songs but one are exceptional. This is one of their most progressive oriented albums ever, too - Simon House's return on violin certainly helped that out. While this one is often overlooked, it really shouldn't be, as it is one of the top echelon of Hawk-albums.
Images
This one comes in dramatically and has a quick crescendo, then the band launch into a fast paced jam. Bridget Wishart's vocals take the lead here. This is a very potent and classic sounding Hawksong, and an excellent album opener. A staccato jam takes it later, and then the cut drops to keys with effects overtop. Against this backdrop processed, mostly spoken, vocals come across. This eventually crescendos and sedate atmospheric keys carry it for a time until the original song section screams out with Dave Brock taking an awesome solo. Simon House takes a violin solo over top as they carry on later. The whole band pretty well goes nuts in the later minutes until a crescendo followed by effects gives way to another reprise of the central theme. This is truly one of the best constructed and powerful songs Hawkwind ever created.
Black Elk Speaks
Native American drumming with only slight instrumentation at first, then a growing intense rhythmic progression serves as the background of a Native American recitation by John G. Neihardt. After this Wishart eventually takes some vocals more as a poetry reading atop this same background. Narration in the form of a couple repetitive loops returns later. The drums are the last man standing here. This is a very effective number.
Wings
The sounds of birds start this and keys join in after a time in space waves of texture. Then the band joins in a bouncy rhythmic texture. The vocals come in with a slightly echoed dual, mostly spoken / partly sung performance by Alan Davey and Wishart. Sound effects come across at times. This doesn't wander far and fades very slowly out to end. The song foretells the end of birds due to pollution, and it's another very strong one on an exceptionally strong album.
Out of the Shadows
Beginning with the sounds of a race, the band also jump out of the gate running fast. This is a frantically paced Hawk rocker that really works well. A more melodic break later includes some stellar jamming and intriguing background sounds. They drop it back to a hypnotic Hawkwind drone type structure later to continue. As this carries on Alan Davey gets a bass solo, then the cut dissolves into weird sounds and processed vocals, laughter and applause. A weirdly processed vocal returns to the lyrics of the song after a time. Then atmospheric keys take the track, segueing it into the next one.
Realms
This weird sound effects dominated keyboard solo is basically all atmosphere. This drags on a bit too long and is the one weak point on the album. Percussion enters at the end to segue it into the next track.
Ship of Dreams
Percussion begun in "Realms" carries forward here with little accompaniment, then a recitation/chant start over the top and weird sound effects join. Eventually the band comes to the party in a classic Hawkwind rhythmic jam. This one really feels like it could have come from the Turner/Calvert era of the band. This is rather weird, very hypnotic and quite cool, most of the time the music just wanders in and out. The later vocals in the cut feel as if they are part of a dream. This dissolves to chanted hypnotic rhythmic weirdness later, and underwater sounds end it.
TV Suicide
Effects driven keys with the sounds of television show noise star this, and a droning begins. It carries on like this for quite a while, then the intensity builds, and a repetitive keyboard line plays back and forth across the top. A vocal line sort of echoes backwards in and begins a spoken recitation with chorus coming over to of keyboards. They build this up for a time until the sound of glass breaking heralds in a new pretty and sedate yet glowing keyboard section. This gradually builds and runs the song through to its end.
Disc 3: Palace Springs
Coming from a band with seemingly a million albums under their belt, this is really one of their best live discs. It captures a great, if quite short, period of the band and does so with a style and texture that really is incredible. There is one key difference here from the earlier versions of this CD. This time around "Void of Golden Light" and "Lives of Great Men" really are two separate pieces. Yes, they run in together and are intertwined, but they track as two separate numbers here. The titles are also reversed in order from earlier editions, which is more accurate.
Back In the Box
Staccato in its textures, this Hawk cut features some stellar vocal work from Bridget Wishhart and a great violin texture that seriously adds to the piece. It includes a great weird interlude.
Treadmill
A more straightforward rock song, this one is made stronger by the violin presence. It has a great instrumental break with lots of killer hawk jamming.
Lives of Great Men
On earlier versions of this CD, this song and the next one were actually one track, but listed as two. Here this part makes up the first three and a half (well a few seconds short) minutes of what on other discs was a two-fer. This is the more rocking movement.
Void of Golden Light
I love this classic and classy tune. This live version is so good. I love the keyboard layers that are all over this thing. The keyboard sections later in the track are particularly effective.
Time We Left
This short song does a great job of capturing the early Hawkwind sound and this is one of the better renditions of this piece ever recorded.
Heads
Based on a slow keyboard dominated weird groove, this one is quite strong.
Acid Test
Based on a very spacey weirdness, this cut is rather strange.
Damnation Alley
Coming straight out of the previous cut, keyboards bring it in and the number begins to build from there. It includes a nice sedate segment.

 

 

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