I’ve sat on this for a while and it’s now out there for you to get your hands on but it’s very difficult to write a balanced review of what represents four of your favourite albums of all time by your favourite band of all time. Yes it’s a boxset re-release from the late 70’s but hey, I don’t care! So, let’s throw balance out the window and say from the off that this re-release package of four albums represents some of the finest music ever made and I know each track like the back of my hand; they have been played so often over the years. This is Bob Calvert, who was by this time the band’s vocalist in residence, era Hawkwind and his way with words is, to my mind second to none.
The first album chronologically is Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music which is named after the sci-fi magazine of similar name and it has a hippy trippy vibe throughout, particularly the tracks City Of Lagoons, The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon, Kadu Flyer and Chronoglide Skyway that each develop into sprawling instrumentals that just demand 500 mics of Owsley’s finest to be ingested. But there is a dark edge to Astounding Sounds and Steppenwolf is a step into a demimonde of city life where the shadowy edge is only slightly concealed beneath a thin veneer of normality. Kerb Crawler is a rock out number that seems at odds with the rest of the album in some ways but it’s the obvious single from the record.
Quark, Strangeness and Charm comes up next and is perhaps the most accessible of Hawkind’s output in many ways, despite it having a more ominous and prophetic science fiction edge to it than its predecessor. Spirit Of The Age opens the album with its morse code theme that permeates throughout and tells the tale of a cryogenically frozen space fairer whose android replica of his then underage, but now long gone, earthbound girlfriend is playing up again, “Ah, it’s no joke, when she comes she moans another’s name, but that’s the spirit of the age”. Damnation Alley is inspired by the book of the same name by Roger Zelazny and Hassan I Sabbah has an eastern feel to it and talks of Middle Eastern tensions and issues of the day. Musically this is tighter and more honed for a wider audience but remains to this day still as fresh in its flesh as when I first heard it.
Hawklords: 25 Years On is actually not a Hawkwind record, though it obviously is, as the band couldn’t use the name Hawkwind for whatever reason. Hawklords is a very different record and perhaps the least typical of the band they have done, but Calvert’s lyrics and the finely crafted songs still manage to carry it off brilliantly. The cover is also a departure and is somewhat homoerotic in its styling… i think. Psi Power talks about circles, squares, triangles and waves, the cards used to detect telepathy and how the gift soon turns sour, but overall the album is pretty upbeat, yet stark, and where Quark explored more negative subject matter of a future time, Hawklords is more of the here and now to my mind. Flying Doctor is a hilarious respite of a drug addled Australian outback doctor whose supplies are running low…you can see where they go…and whilst it shouldn’t work on this record it does!
PXR5 finishes off this collection magnificently, though in fact it was recorded before Hawklords. Lyrically and musically it is clearly the bridge between the Quark and Hawklords and again you have science fiction themes with songs inspired by Zelazny (Jack Of Shadows) Asimov (Robot) and Ballard (High Rise). How and why the latter wasn’t used in the film of 2015 is an absolutely criminal tragedy! The album finishes with PXR5 and has the band aboard a space craft whose engines have been made to work and sees them moving forward in a more optimistic and positive tone.
OK, I was never going to be able to write an objective review about these records. Hawknerds will already have the records of course but I’m sure many will go out and buy this too. For those who don’t know Hawkwind or have them labelled as lysergic soaked, speed merchants, hell bent on taking their anarchic and self styled space rock to the inner city masses then think again. These are well crafted albums of high lyrical worth and musically they have stood the test of time brilliantly.
Oh, and you get a poster!