Hawkwind are more than the sum of their original members. Only Dave Brock remains of the band who formed in 1969, but that doesn’t matter. They’re a force, perennial and eternal. It’s as though that noise they make, that primordial driving groove, was there long before they emerged – their numerous players, 50 at last count, were just tapping into it – and it will be there long after Brock has gone.
They’re still a jumble of paradoxes: the two-chord-simple rockers and primitive electronicists, in search of space while mired in everyday slurry; the city kids with a penchant for the pastoral. Into The Woods shows where Brock, who lives on a farm in Devon, is currently at – a long way from Ladbroke Grove. The titles speak volumes: Cottage In The Woods, The Woodpecker… There’s even a track called Vegan Lunch. But just when you think the erstwhile anarcho druggie, leader of rock’s closest thing to a speed-addled biker gang, has become a tree-hugging sap, the glorious grind of Hawkwind’s muddy motorik revs into earshot.
Besides, if anything on Into The Woods Brock and his merry men (including drummer Richard Chadwick and keyboardist Tim Blake) conjure, not the mellowness but the magic and mystery, even malevolence, of nature. The opening, title number is a dark invitation (‘We are waiting here for you,’ warns Brock) over what sounds like a metallic nursery rhyme – Anthrax and Gretel. Have You Seen Them is seven minutes of psych freakery and spaceship bleeps. Space Ship Blues – essentially Silver Machine revisited – captures that Hawkwind duality with its sci-fi synth whorls and cheery banjo.
Hawkwind in 2017 will either seem like an irrelevance or the continuation of a vital source, just as The Wind will strike you either as four minutes of flatulent pseudo-poetry (‘Causing sighing trees to overlay mosaics of trembling leaves’ indeed) or a stirring incantation neatly blending nature-imagery and sound FX. But chances are, by the astral boogie of Magic Scenes and chugging insistence of Wood Nymph, you’ll be seduced, ‘silent tendrils of the mist’ and all. Magic Mushroom is the nine-minute blowout, a protean swirl of organ and guitars, where rock meets trance. Think Chuck Berry if he emerged during rave – Goa, Johnny, Goa. After several minutes of organ vamping and guitar extrapolating, there is the sound of a spacecraft whooshing skywards. Into The Woods might not be Hawkwind’s best album, but it’s the most essential now. Why? To keep the force alive.