Jun 12, 2012
Hawkwind - Onward ...
I am going to go against the grain of what most reviewers say about the band and say for the record that I think their last 2 albums have been their best output since the 'Chronicle of the Black Sword' was released back in 1985. This newbie 'Onward' might not have that classic, timeless vibe that their early to mid 70's albums had but it is still very solid. The way they make albums these days is what leaves some people confused and with good reason. They seem not to be interested at all in attracting new fans and not overly keen on making old fans happy either. They seem to just record whatever they feel like playing at the time so it is easy to hear why some people see Hawkwind as a hit or miss band these days. As with recent albums, they still have traces of their classic, influential past. There are shimmering guitar's and spaced-out atmospheric psychedelic jammy passages and moments of progressive rock. There are Hawkwind trademarks such as repetitive, almost punky guitar-based epic-ness too but there is really not enough of it to please those people wanting another 'Space Ritual.'
In terms of a concept, this is one very ambitious release. It is 2 CD's and one hour and 22 minutes of music spread over 18 tracks so if you get bored by one of the many longer pieces on this album, you can always move on to the next track. To be fair, I have to say I like this album a lot but there are a few moments that are just either boring or too light-weight to carry any interest. You also can get the feeling that they have fallen into the trap of recycling their own riffs. After 40 plus years, you can forgive them for the odd recycled riff but it seems to happen a little too often on 'Onward.' The other major questionable element is the vocals from bassist Jonathan Darbyshire which almost seem "too-nice" at times and it also seems like the tracks where he doesn't sing are the highlights of the 'Onward' album. 'The Hills have Ears' is the albums first real highpoint which features the vocals of drummer Richard Chadwick. This track does re-kindle a little of the 70's magic and should please older fans of the band.
The track that follows is also interesting because it is basically band leader Dave Brock going solo, playing all the instruments and producing a very trippy acoustic-based track. Brock's vocals are sounding a little thin these days but as soon as he mutters the first words, you can tell it is him. 'Southern Cross' takes the album into atmospheric ambient territory and features ex-Gong keyboardist Tim Blake. 'The Prophecy' is dreamy, laid-back and melodic....the song off this album that signals the time to light the joint. 'Computer Cowards' kicks off disc two and it is the band in fine psychedelic form....the album could have done with a few more tracks like this one. The album then goes into a bunch of reworked older tracks. Why they decided to rework these tunes is unknown to me and kind of puzzling as these reworkings all seem weaker than the original versions. 'Right To Decide' is the highlight out of the older reworkings but it wouldn't surprise at all if some folks hate it, to put it mildly, it is an acquired taste. The highlight of disc two though goes to a 8 minute odyssey titled 'The Flowering of the Rose' which is an extended jam that has the band totally fired up. Take a listen to this track if you wonder why so many psychedelic bands choose Hawkwind as their main influence.
While this album has some missteps, none of them are really horrible. Even the albums worst tracks are still very listenable but I doubt if many people will get the urge to revisit them after hearing them just one time. At almost 90 minutes, there is at least 50 minutes of great Hawkwind music so it is more good than average material. One thing is certain; an open mind is required if you are going to get any serious mileage out of 'Onward.' For those wanting nothing but pure space-rock, you will be disappointed as this album has more folky Pink Floydish moments than any real space-rockin psychedelia. However they have now produced 2 very solid albums in a row starting with 2010's 'Blood of the Earth' so they do seem to be on somewhat of a roll. Dedicated fans of the band will eat this album up but lesser fans may find it too light and flaky overall - so you have been warned.....8/10.
Hawkwind | Official Website