Last year’s The Machine Stops was a pleasant surprise. Their first album in four years, it marked a rebirth for Dave Brock’s veteran space rock collective. Conceptually inspired by EM Forster’s dystopian novel, it found a fresh Hawkwind line-up in fine form, recapturing the band’s original spirit of sonic experimentation and psychoactive adventure. What’s more, its arrival revealed that rock retained its enduring affection for Hawkwind. We were damned glad to have them back, album sales exceeded expectations and an accompanying tour matched positive reviews with full houses.Consequently, we come to its (comparatively rapid) successor with elevated expectations.
It’ll probably come as no surprise that Into The Woods’ recurrent theme is distinctly green in nature. Its track titles alone promise wood nymphs, woodpeckers and cottages in the woods, but of course, being Hawkwind, there are also ascents, magic scenes and mushrooms, which one imagines, aren’t entirely unconnected. Hell, there’s even a Space Ship Blues. So outwardly, there remains absolutely nothing wrong here. Yet, stripped of the shock and awe that accompanied The Machine Stops’ first spin, your critical radar can’t help but seek out the negative, and Into The Woods isn’t without flaw.
Rest easy, there’s nothing terribly wrong, we’re not about to announce a terminal decline, but now the Hawkwind machine’s back operating at full power, it could certainly benefit from a fine tune. There’s certainly no lack of ambition here. The material’s routinely packed with an embarrassment of riches; it’s just that ideas come so thick and fast that they have a tendency to tread on each other’s toes. Far from lacking in inspiration, today’s Hawkwind have so much to say that knockout riffs are occasionally allowed to negate hooks and concurrent flashes of brilliance simply cancel each other out. Ultimately, they need fresh ears in the production department; an authoritative voice to edit the script and direct the movie playing out in the sonic cinema of their collective imagination.
Self-producing is all very well, but Hawkwind need to relinquish control to realise their potential. But enough fine-tooth nit-picking, what’s the good news? All concerned play out of their skin. Haz Wheaton’s bass-playing only continues to delight. The band’s best four-stringer since Lemmy, he creates crescendoes and drives momentum with rare fluidity and power. In fact, hearing the Hawks sounding this vital is almost an antidote to the dispiriting antipathy between Brock and Nik Turner, a feud doing nothing to benefit their shared legacy or Hawkwind’s proud name.
For now, it’s great, but the next could be absolutely brilliant.