“Transportative music… a deeply cosmic record that might be out there with their very best”: Hawkwind’s Stories From Time And Space

The space rock icons’ late-career renaissance continues on their 36th studio album

Hawkwind - Tales From Time And Space
(Image: © Cherry Red)

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Hawkwind’s 21st-century renaissance may never quite live up to the Liberty/UA years, but that doesn’t stop them trying. Their time on Cherry Red, from 2016’s The Machine Stops onwards, has lasted longer and been more productive than any other period in their lengthy career.

It’s been a surprisingly robust and consistent eight years, with a new record arriving in each calendar year (counting 2022’s live We Are Looking In On You). Dave Brock’s interchangeable cast of merry men and occasional woman may no longer have youth on their side; and they might miss some of the visual swagger of graphic designer Barney Bubbles, with his impudent hidden references and outlandish folded cardboard sleeves. But make no mistake: the Hawkwind of the present are a force to be reckoned with.

Stories From Time And Space – a HG Wellsian title if ever there was one – shares some of the visual symmetry of Space Ritual. It has an ominous-looking clock on the cover with an almost futuristic “2024” written across the face; it’s a date that has the dystopian ring of vintage sci-fi about it, made all the more surreal given that Hawkwind are still releasing albums 55 years after they first emerged out of Ladbroke Grove.

A band who have always looked forwards have been looking rearwards with recent ventures: The Future Never Waits from last year was arranged so that the album ran in reverse sequentially. But here, songs – like thoughts – are more fragmented, with reminiscences and future projections overlapping each other like the components of a vast collage.

Moreover, the album plays the neat trick of presenting sonic space on the one hand and intricacy on the other, with each new play likely to offer up further detail that might have gone unnoticed previously.

Opener Our Lives Can’t Last Forever is a strange place to start, even if it sets things up thematically. It feels a little over-earnest and distinctly uncosmic on a first listen: a power ballad that treads similar ground to post-Waters-era Pink Floyd, with some curious choices made at the mixing desk as the organ overrides everything, and Brock’s vocal sits deep in the mix. Yet the fragility and the sincerity of the song save it. 

It’s a pragmatic and characteristically pessimistic assessment of man’s long-term chances, and when Brock sings about the lines on his face reflected in the mirror, he’s addressing his own mortality. Aged 82, and having suffered a spell of ill-health recently, one suspects it’s probably something that crosses his mind from time to time.

That opener vastly contrasts with The Starship (One Love One Life), a space banger that has a transcendent quality with a Rastafari philosophy and a Latin groove – and one that would sound magnificent covered by John Shuttleworth on a Bontempi organ, such is its charm.

It, along with Till I Found You, is one of the finer latter-day Hawkwind songs; both have indelible melodies imprinted on unusual grooves that lodge easily in the cerebral cortex. The same can be said for the pounding near title track Traveller Of Time & Space, which is grounded by an infectious two-part harmony and offset by vertiginous Frippertronic-style guitars. It breaks down at the midway point as theremins and ascending strings appear out of nowhere like benign invaders entering the empyrean.

A journey reminiscent of those bold, strange sci-fi pictures that demand to be viewed on the big screen

What Are We Going To Do While We’re Here further exemplifies this playful shifting within the same landscape, drifting from ambient noodling to attacking motorik urgency, resplendent with forceful, distorted guitars and what sounds like space static from György Ligeti’s soundtrack to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. If that weren’t enough transmogrifying for one lifetime, the whole thing then slips into a smooth sax break at the conclusion.

It’s not all wild sprawl, with short intermissions of ambient mood such as Eternal Light – redolent this time of an Eduard Artemyev soundtrack from one of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 70s sci-fi epics – and The Black Sea, which tacitly references Ligeti again.

Artemyev and Ligeti are appropriate references given the cinematic scope of Stories From Time And Space, and the fact it takes us on a journey reminiscent of those bold, strange, ambitious sci-fi pictures that demand to be viewed on the big screen in an unrestored 70mm print.

The further we venture, the more it feels like being lost in deep space with only memories for company, and the creeping sense that the voyage might all be one big trip. This is transportative music that offers up lost futures and moments of nostalgia for evocations that may never have belonged to us in the first place. It’s a deeply cosmic record that might just be out there with their very best.

Stories From Time And Space is on sale now via Cherry Red.