April 5, 2024

Back in the ’70s, nobody would have ever in their wildest dreams thought that the resolutely counter-culture anti-heroes of Hawkwind would ever have ended up with over 50 years of history and the arguable tag of ‘national treasure’. Hell, the band would most probably have sneered at the very suggestion in those halcyon days. Yet here we, and they, are.

You have to hand it to Dave Brock. At the point now, into his 80s (his ninth decade!), he is at the stage when most of his contemporaries would have either retired or at the very least settled into a far more relaxed working schedule, recording and releasing material only when the fancy takes them, and playing live even less. That’s assuming they are even around to debate the retirement options of course, especially given the rock and roll lifestyle and, well, let’s face it – being in Hawkwind full stop. It’s not a band who ever came with much in the way of long-term investment and pension options, let’s just say that. And yet they have gained a new impetus, with the admirable fervour of a man who senses the ticking of the mortal clock, and wants to say all he has to say in terms of his creativity before time eventually wins the race, as of course it always does. As a result, Hawkwind activity in recent years has been at an astonishingly productive level, with new albums appearing at a faster rate than one every 12 months, and extensive touring following each one. You certainly can’t fault Brock for his drive, enthusiasm and desire to give the fans as much music as he is able.

Thereby, however, hangs the other side of the tale. At the rate the releases are being fired out (apparently the next one is already well underway!), there is only so much that can be done to balance the quality vs quantity equation, and while the recent releases have not yet tipped that balance, there may be signs of fatigue developing with the constant outpouring of new material. This new album is a case in point – while it is at roughly the same overall level as its recent predecessors, there is a danger that too much too quickly could have the opposite effect. It’s a difficult one to call really – can one really urge for less music to be created by a beloved and respected band while the time remains to make it, just to concentrate the cream of the material more fully on each release? Would people even want that, or would they rather have three albums rather than one over, say, a three year period. Certainly, many would say they will treasure as much as they can get, and who is to decry that view? Casual listeners would want tighter and less frequent releases perhaps – but then again, how many casual listeners are there in the Hawkwind album-buying demographic at this point? A tricky one, but let’s park the debate there while we look at this release…

Straight away, the album begins on a strong note, with Brock addressing those very concerns about the march of time in the opening Can’t Last Forever, a somewhat reflectively downbeat meditation on the fate of man on both an individual and planetary level. Musically it moves along at a fairly languid pace, the backing very much Hawkwind, but also more subdued than one would expect, matching the lyrical impact of the piece. It works very well, and has some depth to it which is good to see. The following The Starship (One Love One Life) is a far more optimistic and upbeat track; it struggles at first as it is fairly thin song-wise, but all is redeemed as it quickly turns into a classic Hawkwind instrumental groove, accounting for most of its near-eight-minute length, and so far so good. I won’t go through every track, as I often feel that such an action can come off a little like reciting some kind of shopping list, especially when there are as many tracks as the thirteen on show here. Suffice it to say that there is a very pleasing unity to the album, with the whole thing coming together very comfortably under an unmistakable Hawkwind umbrella stylistically. This isn’t to say that we have thirteen tracks all sounding like clones of such long-ago landmarks as Master Of The Universe, Psychedelic Warlords, Robot, Levitation and the like, as there is plenty of stylistic variation here, from the ambient soundscapes of Eternal Light, The Night Sky or The Black Sea, through the lush grandeur of Til I Found You, to the familiar interstellar groove-riffing of The Tracker or Re-Generate. There are tracks here which take more listening to absorb, with the title track and the closing Stargazers being multi-faceted beasts which reveal their charms slowly. Overall, it’s a fine selection of music with scarcely a duff cut among the bunch. And yet therein lies both the strength and weakness of this album.

There is little doubt that this release is a more consistent and overall stronger album than recent releases such as All Aboard The Skylark, Somnia or The Future Never Waits, as each of those records contained at least one or two distinct dips in quality with tracks which definitely leaned towards filler material to bulk up the running length. However, by the same token, they all also contained genuine standouts, from Flesh Fondue, to Unsomnia, to Rama (The Prophecy), to name just one from each. Stories From Time And Space, on the other hand, lacks the real peaks to stand out from the herd when listening through. On a graph, it’s at a greater level consistently, traversing a fairly straight path along the X axis, but it doesn’t have the wildly varying peaks and troughs which marked those other recent releases. Now, the question is which is the more desirable? In one respect, this album is the cream of the crop, as everything works well in and of itself. But on the other hand, if asked to pick out a clear standout to ring down the years like an Assault And Battery, a Spirit Of The Age or a Brainstorm, I’d find it harder to do. So, to return to the original musing of this review, the question remains unresolved as to whether one truly great album comprising the highlights of these last three or four would be a greater legacy for this late-period Hawkwind, or a waste of some good quality music which would undoubtedly be lost. It’s churlish even to pose the question in a way, as the continued productivity of the band is and remains remarkable, but it is, I suspect, a question which some may be musing about.

Ultimately, the Spaceship Hawkwind is, and always has been, under the firm command of Captain Brock, and while he may have navigated some areas of space which some have enjoyed more than others, in the final reckoning they will go down in the annals of contemporary music as the finest space-rock band ever to have charted a course. To argue otherwise is simply spurious, as no other band in that loose genre of progressive music can come remotely close to the depth and breadth of their mostly admirable catalogue. This latest release comfortably adds to that legacy without tarnishing it in any way, that much is undeniable – and it is, in truth, better than we could have dared to expect back when we were young and even Dave Brock was in his early 30s! There just remains that question about whether this late-period burst of creativity may ultimately prove too much to sustain. I like many others, however, will be here to eagerly find out the answer.

Back in the ’70s, nobody would have ever in their wildest dreams thought that the resolutely counter-culture anti-heroes of Hawkwind would ever have ended up with over 50 years of history and the arguable tag of ‘national treasure’. Hell, the band would most probably have sneered at the very suggestion in those halcyon days. Yet here we, and they, are. And we can’t really ask for much more than that.