Hawkwind still lurk on the fringes of a rock’n’roll world that has never truly understood or embraced them at any point in the 42 years they’ve been releasing albums. They really have no business sounding as vibrant and enthused as they do on Onward. While many other bands of this vintage plunder the nostalgia cupboard looking for past glories to revisit and re-heat, the space rock legends continue to motor mischievously forward, sounding as endearingly out-of-time and subtly demented as ever; the giddy head rush of their trademark sound a perpetual good time train ride that never seems to run out of steam.
Opening with Seasons, a marauding wibble ‘n’ chug rocker that could have slotted neatly onto any of the band’s previous 24 studio albums, this is manifestly the strongest Hawkwind album for many years. The current line-up’s intuitive grasp of what made records like In Search Of Space and Doremi Fasol Latido so great in the first place collides here with a newfound sense of wonder at the possibilities of recorded sound.
And as much as cynics might suggest that there is a formula being endlessly repeated here, Onward exhibits plenty of diversity too: from the Floyd-ish downstream drift of Mind Cut and the tooth-rattling astral punk rock of Death Trap, to the rambling, sun-kissed instrumental whimsy of Southern Cross. With its disarming hooks and anthemic thrust, The Prophecy sounds not unlike The Psychedelic Furs after a heavy bong session. Thus this is a wide-ranging affair glued together by the glimmering sonic space dust and pie-eyed sense of wonderment that has always been a Hawkwind hallmark.
The lyrics are a blast too, the band’s enduring lust for a more enlightened view of the world emerging as a slightly befuddled but thoroughly likeable sci-fi poetry. Notions of a ‘green finned demon’ who ‘Draws the moon towards him with a wand of whale’s bone’ and visions of ‘A flight of steel eagles tearing by/The ripped silk scream of a rendered sky’ mesh perfectly with the scorching riffs, bubbling electronics and shimmering synths that swirl tirelessly around in the sonic foreground.
Meanwhile, on the menacing pulse of Computer Cowards and the macabre swooshes and nebulous squall of Howling Moon, dark clouds cast a shadow over Hawkwind’s otherwise unerring benevolence, reasserting the fact that there is no shortage of righteous rage and disquiet simmering at the heart of the band’s supposedly hippie-centric ideals.
Onward won’t change the world, of course, but its vitality and vivacity prove that there is still immense value in going into orbit with amps cranked to maximum.