The first Hawkwind studio album for 5 years, since 2005's Take Me To Your Leader - discounting the "sampler" EP, 2006's Take Me To Your Future - is just cause for celebration amongst the band's fans, of which I am one. Of course, fans have recently had the (ongoing) pleasure of Esoteric Recordings' Atomhenge series of remastered reissues to keep them happy, but a new studio album is a rare treat indeed for a band that, entering its fifth decade is still playing live regularly. It would have pleased my sense of justice had this album been released on Esoteric, they have done much for the band in recent years.
Sad to say, then, that Blood of the Earth falls well short of expectation, in particular as the that expectation had been enhanced by the band's excellent back history being in sharp focus as a result of the reissues. After an excellent start, the album fades into a meandering morass after the fourth track.
Aboard the mothership on this flight are the perennial Dave Brock (vocals, guitar, keyboards, synth, warbletone), the legendary Tim Blake (vocals, keyboards, EMS, Therami), stalwart Richard Chadwick (drums, percussion, vocals) and newbies Niall Hone (guitar, bass, samples) and Mr Dibs (vocals, bass).
The album features the usual Hawkwind mix of sung and instrumental tracks, with the predominance for singing, and there are no tricks – this sounds very much like a Hawkwind album. At least there's one band that over four decades has ploughed the same straight furrow, virtually without deviation – fans know what they're going to get! That may be a simplification, but not a great one compared with many other bands. Unfortunately, the quality does vary a bit and there are good Hawkwind albums and not so good ones.
So as you know where I'm coming from, my favourites are Hall of the Mountain Grill, Quark, Strangeness and Charm, Levitation and, of the modern era ones, Spacebrock. An example of a less enjoyable one would be In Your Area, although even that, as this, has good moments.
At the album's beginning, we're straight into 5* territory with Vincent Price's menacing voiceover declaring "I will become the Master of the Universe" as a prelude to some whirls and whizzes, then a super bass riff and some ace synth work on "Seahawks". Wow! Welcome back! "Blood of the Earth" maintains the interest, a very spacey number with another Hawkwind trademark, some SF poetry. "Wraith" is a rocker that delivers punch and pace. By now we are soaring the heights; the instrumental "Green Machine" delivers a beautiful synth melody that then develops with some tantalisingly pretty guitar. So far, totally excellent, great sound, great music, it's all one can hope for.
Unfortunately, this is where things begin to go awry. Blake's "Inner Visions" fails to nail home the advantage wrought by a crunchy riff; it's not bad but lacks the excellence of the first four numbers and one is left feeling that it is an opportunity missed. It gets worse: "Sweet Obssession" sounds tinny to me – through state-of-the-art hi-fi as well as through iPod – and that is a terrible thing to write about a band such as Hawkwind! "Comfy Chair" is just droney and sleepy; "Prometheus" is slow and lacking interest, the long bridge fails to excite in any way; "You'd Better Believe It", another of those "standard" Hawkwind re-writes, is the murder of a great song; and "Sentinel", which ends the normal album, is plodding. The bonus track, the instrumental "Starshine", is uninteresting – they have written far better in their career.
Interviewed for a British progressive rock magazine Brock claimed the new album was "alright". I agree – it is alright, but judging by the start, it could have been excellent.
Another factor adding to the sense of disappointment is that the band's imitators now appear to have overtaken them in terms of quality. They have influenced a number of bands some of whom, such as Litmus, are near-imitators. Only thing is, they are very good at it; for instance their Planetfall and Aurora albums outdo anything Hawkwind themselves have done in the last ten years. Of course, if you are a Hawkwind fan like me, you'll probably buy Blood of the Earth anyway (and rightly so!) but, for others who may be interested in delving into some classic space-rock, then I'm almost tempted to suggest you try a Litmus album instead.
The King is dead. Long live the King!
2) Blood of the Earth
4) Green Machine
5) Inner Visions
6) Sweet Obssession
7) Comfy Chair
9) You'd Better Believe It
11) Starshine (Bonus Track)