On April 30, Hawkwind released a new studio album called Onward, and with a few days worth of listening under my belt, I’m thinking this disc deserves one of the highest BLANGA scores of the group’s past two decades, joining such latter-day crunchy classics as Distant Horizons (1997), Electric Tepee (1992) and The Xenon Codex (1988). It’s pretty amazing stuff for a band whose founder (Dave Brock) has been playing live for more than half a century, and who has worked with more members and put out more records than pretty much anybody this side of Mark E. Smith’s The Fall.This is the second album produced by the current line-up (founder-leader Brock, stalwart drummer Richard Chadwick, prodigal synth player Tim Blake, and relative newcomers Niall Hone and Mr. Dibs), and the creative growth in two short years that this group of players has achieved together with Onward is remarkable and delightful, as it is a very solid addition to their studio canon, with numerous songs that should be concert staples for years to come.
As has been the case with most Hawkwind studio albums since the late 1980s, Onward features an assortment of new compositions interspersed with recastings of older material from their catalog. Robert Calvert’s “Death Trap” and “Aero Space Age Inferno” both get excellent, high-energy treatments on Onward, while Dave Brock’s evocative “Green Finned Demon” gets a suitably moody treatment that presents it as well as it’s ever been framed since first appearing as a B-side to “Night of the Hawks” in 1984. The acoustic-synthetic freakout of “Mind Cut” (which evokes the equally twangy-loopy “Hurry on Sundown” from the group’s 1970 debut album) is a re-casting of an ancient, pre-Hawkwind Brock busking number called “Get Yourself Together,” and it’s aged surprisingly well all these years on. “The Flowering Of The Rose” is a walloping long-form groove built on a riff that appears to have been culled from the Calvert-era “Steppenwolf,” with some tasty leads tossed out by some combination of Brock, Hone, Blake and Hawkwind’s late keyboardist Jason Stuart, who died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorage in 2008. 1993’s “Right to Decide” also gets a fresh run-through recorded with Stuart before his passing, and it’s a nice enough version, though it really can’t match the power and passion of the original, which was one of the finest songs Hawkwind produced in the 1990s.
Among the new numbers, standouts include opening BLANGA-fests “Seasons” and “The Hills Have Ears,” (the latter featuring long-time lead guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton in a guest spot), the topical “Computer Cowards,” and the flat-out groovy “The Drive By.” The short spoken-word piece “System Check” is a worthy follower in the tradition of “Sonic Attack,” in which the concept of musical machinery as a weapon is explored, while Brock’s “Howling Moon” and Blake’s “Southern Cross” are evocative mood pieces, painting pictures with sounds and textures in lieu of tints and brushes. Onward is a long album, true, clocking in at nearly an hour and twenty minutes, but it is a rewarding listening experience, and I recommend it highly, for both grizzled BLANGA veterans and space-rock newbies seeking a fresh thrill. It’s good to have fresh BLANGA in hand, especially when it’s delivered by the masters of the genre. We’ll have to update the BLANGA Guide soon . . .