I’m going to start this classic album review with a caveat – i’m a Hawkwind fan. A big Hawkwind fan. To me, Hawkwind aren’t just a band, they are their own genre, constantly evolving and changing. As this album has just won the Prog Awards 2019 classic album award I thought i’d review one of the greatest albums of the 1970’s (though not my personal favourite – that’s a review for another day).
I gently lower the needle on my original 1975 copy of the album, savouring the gentle pop and hiss that has developed over the 25+ years i’ve owned this already well played record. And I still get chills as the bass and keys come in on Assault & Battery. This is a more refined, more honed offering than previous albums. The ordered chaotic swirls of synth, guitar and bass of previous outings such as Space Ritual have been honed and refined – the synths becoming more subtle, sweeping, adding atmosphere. Violin, flute and saxaphone all add extra depth to the rhythmic, pulsing rhythms. With the use of tape loops and samples it’s easy to hear why Hawkwind gained a bit of a cult following on the rave scene in the 1990’s (myself included).
For me, some of the more interesting moments of any Hawkwind album are when they combine the spoken word such as “The Wizard Blew His Horn”, lyrics loosely based on Michael Moorcock’s novel The Eternal Champion – with more ambient jamming, music on the verge, building tension that you can physically feel.
Longer sessions of jamming include the beautiful Opa Loka – simple, driving rhythms, textural guitars and sweeping synths it leads beautifully into my favourite track on the album – The Demented Man. The simple samples, keys and acoustic guitar play beautifully off Dave Brock’s vocals. Even after 25 years this still gives me goosebumps and leaves me in a more reflective mood. Not every song is as successful, some of the more traditional ‘Rock and Roll’ style tracks are accomplished, but just seem slightly out of place to me.
This album wasn’t always well received by critics, it straddled different genres and the press couldn’t put it in the normal prog rock box. And divisions in the band meant they took a bit of a turn creatively after this album, with the stripped back, lean and punky Astounding Sounds… But it remains a tour de force of music. It helped to open my ears to new genres of music back when I was a 16 year old art student and for that i’ll be forever grateful.
So why not try something different outside of your normal comfort zone. You never know, you might be surprised! Or they are soon to go on their 50th Anniversary tour – and the Hawks are always best live, so check out if they are coming to a town near you.