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Hawkwind: The Machine Stops

Dystopian sci-fi concept proves a perfect fit.

Ardent fans of dystopian science fiction will doubtless already be aware of EM Forster’s classic short story The Machine Stops.

A parable warning of the dangers of over-reliance on technology and the social isolation stemming from it, it’s been cited countless times and credited with inspiring numerous artistic interpretations and reinventions. The latest to get in on the act are space rock legends Hawkwind – no strangers to dystopian sci-fi themselves – who deliver this weighty, 14-track concept album that vividly brings Forster’s chilling and prophetic vision to life.

Thematically, it’s a perfect fit, the band warming to the stark subject matter as if it were all their own idea. From past efforts such as High Rise, Utopia and Welcome To The Future, the man-made terrors of techno-industrial civilization run amok are meat and drink to mainman Dave Brock and his merry troupe of space cadets, and they clearly relish the task of telling us in no uncertain terms where it all went wrong. (Something to ponder the next time you compare the number of Facebook ‘friends’ you have, versus those in real life – if there still is such a thing.)

Typical Hawkwind fare: hypnotic riffs and swirling synths.

Musically, the bulk of the album is typical Hawkwind fare, and the mix of hypnotic riffs, driving rhythms and swirling synths (veteran knob-twiddler Tim Blake goes nicely overboard here) will sound a familiar chord with long-standing devotees. Brock himself is in fine voice, his distinctive tones seemingly ageless and impervious to time. From synth-driven overture All Hail The Machine to the final warning of Lost In Science, only the quirky, whimsical Hexagone breaks the mould.

Along the way we pass the familiar – The Machine, King Of The World, A Solitary Man – via the usual combination of instrumental interludes and ominous narration. It would all lend itself perfectly to a semi-theatrical stage production, which – being yet more familiar ground – we’re assured the band are currently working on.

Elsewhere, atmospheric pieces such as In My Room and the brooding Thursday contrast sharply with the catchy and upbeat likes of Synchronised Blue and Living On Earth. There’s even an airing for the Middle Eastern mood Hawkwind conjure from time to time with The Harmonic Hall.

Brock and the band have been calling time on humanity’s suicidal, business-as-usual bullshit for nigh on half a century now. Not quite as far back as EM Forster’s day perhaps, but certainly louder, catchier, and much more often. When will we wake up, you wonder? Obviously, we won’t.