At the very end of Onward, Hawkwind’s 26th studio record – and a lengthy double LP to boot – is a song billed as The Mystery Track. It may have no title, but its message is a familiar one: over some trippy riffs and whistling synths, an artificial voice intones: ‘Witness the chaos of eternal motion... Observe the beginnings of your tomorrows...’
While it may be optimistic to think there is an eternity of tomorrows awaiting Hawkwind – they have been going since 1970, and Dave Brock, the cheerily weatherbeaten aesthetic centre of the band, is 71 this year, with plenty of galactic miles on the clock – it’s both heartening and inspiring to find them so evidently enthused and productive. Time has not wearied them: even the album’s title suggests that they are far from done.
Not many people can claim to have had a life in space rock, but Brock is one of them, and like many artists and bands who have survived the iniquities and trends of fashion and commerce, he has prevailed because he has been consistently inventive within a narrow, self-defined field.
Swathes of Onward will be deeply, generically recognisable. All of Hawkwind’s famous tropes are present – the throb from their engine room of riffs; the gnomic, often impenetrable rhetoric of their lyrics; the synthesised flourishes to add the appropriate hallucinogenic touch – yet they do not feel weary or played out. They are deployed with a masterful touch, and sometimes with a nudge and a wink, too.
Allied to this is a clarity of production that sits well, even for a band as ageless as Hawkwind. They sound like modern antiquarians. There is a lot of music here, 18 songs in all including the mystery track and three bonus songs that, with amusing disregard for convention, appear in the middle of disc two, featuring the keyboards of the late Jason Stuart, who passed away in 2008. One of those, The Flowering Of The Rose, is perhaps Onward’s standout moment, along with disc one’s almost Floydian Mind Cut.
The record though is best taken as a single immersive experience. There’s great fun to be had in entering this mad headspace, where songs like System Check and Computer Cowards can sit alongside Green Finned Demon and The Hills Have Ears.
Hawkwind continue to stand apart, and while they have their lulls and sags, they remain an original conceptual force.