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Hawkwind - Hawkwind CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.39 | 290 ratings

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4 stars Hawkwind's strength, even from the beginning, was their live performances. Did the band know this in the beginning? Probably not, but it didn't take long for them to learn. It all started when Dave Brock and Mick Slattery decided to leave the band they were both in at the time, have a meeting with John Harrison, and then decide to embark in a new direction because of their love of electronic music. Before they knew what was happening, Terry Ollis, who was 17 years old at the time, replied to an ad they had put out for a drummer, and Nik Turner and Michael Davies ("Dik Mik"), acquaintances of Brock who were in it at first to be "roadies" of a sort, were instead recruited into the band also. They performed at a local talent night going on stage without a name or material, and decided to call themselves "Group X" and play a cover of "Eight Miles High" which ended up in a 20 minute long jam. They were discovered that night because John Peel was in the audience.

So, they were given time, because of that incident, to go into a studio and record demos, which they did under the name of "Hawkwind Zoo". Right after that, Slattery left the band and Brock brought in another acquaintance Huw Lloyd-Langton. Work began on the debut album, and, as usual, the goal was to make it a studio album with all the kinks worked out. The album didn't sell very well, but it did get the band noticed in the UK underground. Little did they know that they, in the process, had become one of the first space rock bands and that this album would become a guidepost as to how it would be done. Yes, the band had taken some cues from Pink Floyd, and it is probably more apparent in this album than most of their others, but their style was different in that PF used more of a structure which was built off of improvisation, where Hawkwind would use improvisation around a structure. Plus Hawkwind also utilized a more conventional (well, in most cases anyway) style instead of the one based more around contemporary classical styles like PF did.

The one thing that makes this album stand out from the other Hawkwind albums, is that it is about the music, not necessarily the themes built around science fiction stories or spoken word passages, which would be part to of the refinement the band would go through on their 2nd album. Right off the bat, though, Brock pretty much took the reigns as the guy in charge, writing, or at least taking top credit, of the songs. Dick Taylor was brought in to produce and what not, but ended up also contributing some guitar on this album, so, in all, there were 8 members in the band performing on the album. The aim of the album was to send the listeners on a trip without the use of drugs. Listening to the album, you can understand what a risk it was for it's time, but it worked to the band's benefit, even if it isn't the band's best album, one cannot deny that it was important.

Most of the album is improvisational free-form freakout. Yet, interestingly enough, it starts off with a track that is one of the least like anything else they did. "Hurry on Sundown" is a great introductory track for the band, even if it is closer to a blues-oriented track than a psychedelic one. The harmonica riffs stick out immediately to one who is somewhat familiar with other albums by the band. But, the beat has a steadiness that would be indicative of a lot of their space rock jam songs. The sound is nice, poppy and sunshiny and ends with an extended instrumental coda. However, after this one, things start to sound closer to the typical Hawkwind sound. "The Reason Is?" slips right into psychedelia being quite atmospheric and mysterious, moving along for a few minutes before a meandering guitar joins in. The track works well as a intermezzo of sorts, taking us into the 8-minute long "Be Yourself", more of a jam piece formed off of the foundation of a short three chord sequence that the vocal melody also follows. This gets to be a bit redundant until the extended jam section kicks in which features a fast moving rhythm section and begins with improvisation from Brocks sax, morphs into a guitar improvisation, and then switches into a focus on the rhythm section with guitar screeches and scratches and spooky drones rising and falling (in tone), only to eventually return to the redundant three chord sequence at the end. The last track on side one is "Paranoia, Pt. 1", a short piece that builds quickly in intensity and then suddenly ends when it sounds like someone pulled the plug on the phonograph. This is to signal that the side is over.

The 2nd side starts with "Paranoia, Pt. 2", where, on the vinyl edition, sounds like the player was plugged back in, and the track continues. Or does it? What might have seemed like an introduction to this part, is anything but. It is light in lyrics, but heavy in tension, the effects carry the alternating chords which the guitar builds off of and slowly picking up speed and steam while a descending drone screeches underneath it all. It slows down again and crawls along to the end. This slides into "Seeing It As You Really Are", the longest track at 10 minutes. This one takes it's sweet time, as it is more improvisation from the band, set against gradually changing tempos and crazy effects; squealing, groaning, tortured instruments and even vocalization effects. It's not until 8 minutes in that the guitar and sax take turns trying to make sense out of everything, but end up fighting each other until everything ends in a noisy and chaotic conclusion. The last track "Mirror of Illusion" proves that it is a part of the bookend set (along with the first track) with a more traditional sounding rock track, but not as straightforward as the first track. There is a nice extended guitar solo that bridges the 2nd and 3rd verses, but, just in case, there are still a lot of spacey effects going on nonetheless.

This ended the album proper in 1970. The band felt pretty good about it, and, overtime, have come to recognize it for it's riskiness and it's importance in establishing the space rock genre. In 1996, the remastered CD contained 4 bonus tracks. The first of these is "Bring It On Home" which is not really a Hawkwind track at all, but it is a cover done by Dave Brock before Hawkwind existed. It's a fun track, quite well done, with more harmonica which ends up tying in "Hurry on Sundown" to the entire experience. The singing is well pronounced also, which is not something you hear much in future Hawkwind albums. The next two tracks are from the Hawkwind Zoo EP that I mentioned in the beginning. First is a demo version of "Hurry On Sundown", which is still quite a decent version, actually sounding more like the Hawkwind most of us are familiar with than the version on the original album. This is followed by another demo of the rare track recorded in the same sessions "Kiss of the Velvet Whip" (otherwise known as ''Sweet Mistress of Pain"). This one is also quite enjoyable, not sounding much at all like a demo, and also a bit more commercial than what we are used to hearing from them. The last track is "Cymbaline", and yes it is a cover of the Pink Floyd song from their soundtrack album to "More". The vocals are actually more straightforward and clearer than the PF version, but as it continues, it starts to sound more amateurish and messy, so the PF version wins out here. It's still interesting to hear it anyway.

The 4 bonus tracks really help round out the album, even though they do take away from the psychedelic nature of the album, but they are great to hear anyway because it is a peek into their earliest days. Unfortunately, a lot of this line- up would not survive into the next album, and the studio wanted to push towards a more commercial sound (which they wouldn't really get anyway). Harrison would leave the band because of the increased use of drugs among the other members which he didn't use. Lloyd-Langton would also leave at this time because of a bad LSD trip which caused a nervous breakdown (he would return later though). Dik Mik also left, but came back for the next album after he was replaced by Del Dettmar, so they ended up with two electronics players. All of this was an early sign of the constant changing line-ups that the band would experience. It's amazing, though, that the band was able to stay together as long as they have through the years, and even though the quality of their albums would always be up and down through the years, they usually stayed true to their sound. This album was the beginning of it all, though, and even if it was their first effort, it was still quite strong and influential enough to be used as a blueprint to the genre.

TCat | 4/5 |


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