It's been a long time since a new Hawkwind release had me shivering in anticipation. I still remember the massive disappointment when Distant Horizons arrived, and their limited output since then has been a pale shadow of what had gone before.
First things first. The marketing is pure evil. It's out as a single CD and as a limited edition double CD. Fair enough, apart from the fact that there's a bonus track on the single CD version. So if Hawkwind fanatics (and let's face it, every Hawkwind fan is a fanatic) want a complete collection of songs, they have to pony up for that version as well. Oh, and the vinyl version also has an exclusive track. Evil.
It's also been five years since they last released a studio album – Take Me To Your Leader – so you would have hoped that they might have managed to come up with enough music to fill out an album. Well they haven't, so 12 minutes of studio time are taken up revisiting "You'd Better Believe It" from its 1974 album Hall Of The Mountain Grill and "Sweet Obsession," which was originally on the Dave Brock solo album Earthed To The Ground, released in 1984.
So far, unimpressive. And album opener "Seahawks" does little to change that view. A generic piece of synth-rock, the kind of thing that Hawkwind have been punting out for eons now, it really is dull and uninteresting. Strange to relate then, that once the title track is over and done with, things start to get a whole lot more interesting. And I'm sure it's no coincidence that it's also the first track where new guitarist Niall Hone, formerly of Tribe Of Cro, gets credited alongside all the other members, apart from sole remaining member and founder Dave Brock. It's the first suggestion that maybe, just maybe, Hawkwind have remembered that they invented space rock.
It's back to the synthesiser for "Green Machine," as former Gong man Tim Blake adds the swooshes to the ambient guitar lines in fine fashion before the obligatory bleeps turn up in "Inner Visions," along with the de rigeur Hawkwind Middle Eastern influences. Then there are three tracks in a row without a Dave Brock writing credit, and all the better for it.
The album highlight is "Prometheus," another band co-written track which mines Middle Eastern influences. This one has a style and panache too often missing from Hawkwind releases over the last fifteen years.
On the downside, the production leaves something to be desired, as it's far too muddy, especially on the largely unlistenable rerun of "You'd Better Believe It." But when the newish band are allowed to stretch out and investigate their potential on their own material, then it's very much a return to form.
Over on the live CD, you won't be surprised to learn that no recording details are given. After all, this is Hawkwind, where shoddy is a lifestyle. There's only a cardboard box, a foldout digipack and a 24-page booklet included, so how could you expect pesky details to get in the way? It's also not a full-length live CD, as you're getting a studio cover version of the Syd Barrett tune "Long Gone," which was given away free with Mojo magazine earlier in the year, and a band interview that's barely discernible amongst the 'wacky' special effects.. The live material is good enough, and a lot better than some of the archive material that's been spewed out over the last decade, with a pretty good version of "Angels Of Death" being the standout.
It's very much a curate's egg, as there is a good album lurking in here somewhere. If they'd had the courage of their convictions, dumped the old songs, and allowed the new band to have their head, who knows? This could have been a contender.