|Choose Your Masques Atomhenge reissue
Hawkwind arrived in the year 1982 on the crest of some sort of wave, it would seem, with recent albums
having climbed high into the UK charts, and the band already one record into a deal with major label RCA
(thanks to Kingsley Ward's Active imprint under RCA's auspices...) As it turned out, this would be a
prolific period for them, with the Church of Hawkwind album being released early in the year, and Choose
Your Masques following in the autumn. Stylistically, the band was evolving with each record released
despite the rapid succession with which they were appearing, and it's easier to look back now and see the
RCA years as having some thematic unity which wasn't all that evident at the time.
Choose Your Masques certainly maintains the hallmarks of Hawkwind in the early 80's, such as the lyrical
collaboration with Michael Moorcock, and the metronomic / motorik feel that Martin Griffin's drums added.
But it also brought a warmer, thicker sound to the table than the previous year's Sonic Attack album, and of
course it was a proper band album, unlike immediate predecessor Church of Hawkwind, caught halfway, as
it had been, between being a Dave Brock solo album and a true Hawkwind effort... Opening number and
quasi-title-track Choose Your Masks exemplifies all these trends, consisting solely of a mesmeric two-chord
riff which the entire band grinds out. Some lead guitar colourings and texture in the middle section of the
song really lack the cohesiveness to be called a solo, but do provide enough variance from the uniformity of
verse / chorus to just about make this track deserving of the word "song". As a composition it's not a
strong way to start the album, but Choose Your Masks lays down a marker of onward progression and has
sufficient punch to get the motors running.
Next up, Dream Worker offers a change of pace with some disembodied sci-fi voices and Harvey
Bainbridge keyboards working up to one of his trademark dystopian soundscapes. This is one of the most
successful examples of what Harvey brought to the band. At the time he was still their bass player and this
pretty much started a distinctive new strand which was to be part of the band's weave for almost the next
decade. It's all about the atmospherics, and Dream Worker doesn't go anywhere as such, but just churns
around menacingly for a couple of minutes before fading out. All the more stirring then, should be the
succeeding track Arrival In Utopia, which I have always held to be one of the strongest songs in
Hawkwind's 80's roster. But as much as it bounces along, the truth is that the studio recording here is not a
patch on some of the live versions of Arrival In Utopia out there, such as Nottingham 1990. What I do like
about it is something that's common to the whole album, and that is the warm, rounded, almost creamy
sonic texture that it has. Production credits go to Hawkwind and Pat Moran (who he?) and between them
they came up with an album that, unusually for Hawkwind, has a distinctive sound that admirably suits the
material, despite the fact that it comes from three writers with very different styles (Brock, Bainbridge,
Lloyd-Langton). The finished product also sits easily, in terms of how it sounds, with what was
contemporary at the time: there are early 80's inflections scattered throughout, and Choose Your Masques
never did have the sonically anachronistic quality of, say, the Sonic Attack album, for my money.
But going back to Arrival In Utopia, as good a song as it is, it has a retarded sibling in the form of Utopia
(which follows). Starting off with what sounds like a sustained, quavering bell tone, it is in fact another
Harvey Bainbridge effort. Personally I don't find one minute and eighteen seconds of unaccompanied
repetitive intonations of "if you want to get into it, you've got to get out of it" to be all that musically
rewarding. And then there's the 1982 remake of Silver Machine, which we all know was recorded by
Hawkwind on the tenth anniversary of their hit single success. It's considerably cleaned up from the
original, with a spacious arrangement that highlights Huw Lloyd-Langton's lead guitar, but there's not much
excitement to be had with it, and joy of joys, this is only the first of three inclusions of it on the Atomhenge
reissue. It's leaden and dull, and shouldn't have been on the album at all, but for RCA's interference...well,
that's the conclusion I draw.
Void City is the next track, and as it turns out this also is the first of three renditions on the Atomhenge CD.
More electronic in character than everything else on the album (even Harvey's wholesale experiments in
lunacy), this jumps and pops quite nicely, and doesn't do a whole lot more than establish the groove which,
give or take the superimposition of vocoder'd ensemble vocals, *is* the entire track. The other
instrumentation at work is mostly synth and drum machine (unless Martin Griffin used something like a
Simmons kit - the drum sound is almost in Joy Division territory). And the closing passages feature a lead
voice, possibly done on a guitar, which is fat, warm, buzzy and interestingly atonal.
Huw Lloyd-Langton makes a considerable contribution to this album, and has a couple of his classic
numbers included in the running order. The first of them is Solitary Mind Games, and I've already
mentioned how contemporary sounding this album was when it came out. This particular track sounds
very close to a rich vein of early 80's alt.rock, most particularly the Comsat Angels from Sheffield. They
were trenchcoat-wearing darlings of the NME and cool when H**kw**d was a dirty word. It's not just the
plaintive lead guitar motif, or the world-weary vocals, or the oceans of reverb in which both are swimming -
something about the attitude and structure in this song stands it up alongside the best of that particular
genre, which was not the usual kind of touchpoint for Hawkwind at all.
Fahrenheit 451 comes along next, and this features an erudite Calvert lyric very awkwardly mated to a
workmanlike Brock chord progressions / riffing. The words don't seem to flow smoothly within these
musical parameters, and the music is not all that amazing to be able to overcome this. The result is that
Fahrenheit 451 is...not in the first rank of Hawkwind songs. The Scan comes next and is a brief
instrumental piece segueing straight into Waiting For Tomorrow - the second of Huw Lloyd-Langton's
songs here. It too is one of the strongest things on the album (and was the closing track when it first came
out on vinyl) and I suppose you could describe it as a simple blues-based number, with a marching pace,
that highlights Huw's lead guitar and wrings out a fair degree of musical foreboding to complement the
tense, brooding lyrics. It is in this respect exactly opposite to Fahrenheit 451, because the lyrics and music
hang together so seamlessly. The atmospherics are the equal of what's to be found in the Harvey Bainbridge-
penned tracks, but Waiting For Tomorrow has a much stronger pedigree as a song than Dream Worker, for
The end of the vinyl album that may have been, but every CD version of Choose Your Masques there has
ever been also included two bonus tracks...the "single edit" of the remade Silver Machine, and a remake of
Psychedelic Warlords. On the Atomhenge reissue these two retain their status as bonus tracks, but this is
the "longer single mix" of Silver Machine, clocking in at 3:43, whereas the main body of the album contains
a version that is 4:16 in length. Both are interminable, and when we get on to Disc Two, we will find that
there is yet another edit of Silver Machine to be found there, which is the bona fide single edit lasting 2:41. I
will say no more about this, but Psychedelic Warlords is every bit as misguided a revisitation as Silver
Machine was. Probably it was only re-recorded to provide a B-side to the 10th anniversary Silver Machine
single, with which it shares a plodding, lacklustre vacuity. Where the original Psychedelic Warlords was
suffused with an organic warmth and considerable thrust, this sounds empty and uninspired due to the
unvarying staccato lockstep of minimally arranged drums, bass and guitar. Only Huw Lloyd-Langton's
squiggles of lead guitar relieve the monotony. It's quite noticeable that the both Silver Machine and
Psychedelic Warlords were given a very contemporary early 80's makeover which wasn't at all what the
material demanded, unlike the rest of the album, which thrives on the same production values upon which
these two bonus tracks founder.
Before I leave the subject of Psychedelic Warlords entirely, on the Atomhenge reissue this is a "non vari-
speeded mix" which sounds no different to what we've heard before: but apparently if you play the
Atomhenge reissue version simultaneously with that from earlier CD releases of Choose Your Masques, the
two tracks go out of synch by up to a second in various places, with a total timespan that is a couple of
seconds or so longer on the Atomhenge reissue when compared to Griffin / EBS versions. (Someone has
done this, and it wasn't me.)
And now for Disc Two, which is (apart from the superfluous 3rd rendition of Silver Machine) all previously
unreleased, and provides the real incentive for buying this Atomhenge reissue. As with other Hawkwind
albums they've reissued, Atomhenge have somehow managed to locate a raft of hitherto unheard material
that is contemporary with the rest of the album, and as you would expect it's a mixed bag of new tracks,
alternate versions and "extended versions", meaning that the familiar, finished renditions of the songs in
question were for the most part edited down from what is here. What results is inevitably something of a
We start off with an alternate mix of Void City which I can hardly distinguish from the original, except that
a bit of Nik Turner's sax can be heard wailing and blasting away as the song fades. This actually sounds
pretty good, but considering Nik's stated penchant for honking all the way through everything, maybe it's
just as well that there's only a smattering of it here...¦I would have liked to hear more, assuming it wasn't
like "Turner Point" and Void City being played simultaneouslyâ€¦
Candle Burning is the second track and it's "new" in the sense of being new to Hawkwind, sort of. This
has always been seen as a Huw Lloyd-Langton / LLG song (featured on the "Night Air" album) but was
once trotted out as Hawkwind, on a pirate CD taken from a mid-80's BBC Radio 1 session, I think. This is
probably the pick of the previously unreleased tracks, a brisk, snappy rock song in a minor key, arranged
very atypically for something going under the banner of Hawkwind. Once again the Huw Lloyd-Langton /
Comsat Angels comparison comes to the fore: dark, pulsing bass riffs and reverberating vocals predominate
over Huw's lead guitar figurines. In fact the whole track wallows in reverb, you can hear it individually on
vocals, lead guitar and drums. Yet somehow there's a spareness in the arrangement which works well with
the quicker pace and denser texture of the song, when compared with Psychedelic Warlords etc. etc..
5/4 starts out with a simple keyboard part repeated for a minute or so, with all the variation coming from the
colour (reverb and equalization) being applied to it -Harvey twiddling his knobs again- before moving into the
track proper. In fact we've heard this keyboard intro previously under the name of "The Scan". We've also
heard this rendition of 5/4 before, edited down to appear on the Out & Intake album, so I suppose it's an
outtake of an outtake. The audio quality seems to be better than before, so perhaps it's one of those few
moments on the album where you can really hear an improvement in sound quality wrought by Atomhenge.
Musically it's in, er, 5/4 time which has an edgier feel to it, and what you most notice about it is the drums
punctuating that time signature, some darkly distant but inconsequential vocals, and lead guitar doodling.
A remix of Waiting For Tomorrow is next, and I hear little difference to the version that forms part of the
main body of the album - perhaps a bit more treble clarity, with a touch of pianoesque translucence on the
deep, plunging bass notes. As Choose Your Masques was better produced than many other Hawkwind
albums that Atomhenge have rereleased, perhaps there is less to be gained from the remastering.
Radio Telepathy is a genuinely new track, if you discount the fact that the lyrics went on to be rewritten
and incorporated into Right To Decide. Here, they are set to a dirgelike two-chord sequence similar to Am
and F - like the underpinnings to Golden Void, but not as good. The pace is mid-to-slow, but this track
does a good job of ratcheting up the tension. The arrangement puts slabs of distorted guitar alongside
multitracked vocals with much Brock lead guitar muddying proceedings, and squalls of standard Hawkwind
synth parts filling up the space. You wouldn't turn a hair if this popped up on a Dave Brock solo album,
where its unfinished feel would fit in perfectly.
Lato is basically another, vocalless, version of Void City, but manages to sound quite different again, with a
less focused cornucopia of synth voices weaving in and out in place of the absent vocoder. This
transforms it into a concise, pulsing synth track that just thrums along, exploring a single idea before
terminating in an explosion (a bit of a weedy one, if the truth be told). And we then go right into an
"extended version" of Dream Worker, which at the very least has some different voice overdubs (an
untreated Harvey narrative) from what we've heard before, but is otherwise more of the same. As is
Oscillations, which seems to be the version found on Dave Brock's "Earthed To The Ground" solo album,
with the extendedness of having the Outer Limits sci-fi voiceover intro prepended to the start of the song,
and there's a longer fade at the end, too. I hate the cheesey 1980's vocals and the appalling sub-Genesis
transition into the ascending finale. Well, you can't win 'em all.
Recent Reports maintains that breezy 80's motif, and strings an OK song together with a layer of ensemble
vocals / guitar / synth suspended over a stalking underpinning of bass and drums. Mid-song it meanders
into pretty typical eastern-tinged Hawkwind jam territory, with guttural, muted rhythm guitar squawking
adenoidally as if by minimally travelled wah pedal, and Huw going walkabout on lead guitar. Here, without
the distraction of the curious ensemble verse / chorus arrangement, it strikes a righteous hypnotic groove.
The lyrics (which aren't printed in the booklet) sound interesting, if mining a familiar vein: "recent reports
are coming in: people are angry, sick to the skin", and something about MPs not listening. This was before
the days of moats and duckponds, and (just that part) seems a bit twee now!
Lato Percussive Electro, like Oscillations, seems here to have a connection to Earthed To The Ground, in
this case the track rather than the album of that name, but this is a better, more sprightly version: over a
dense, rapid drum pattern and pinging, tweeting synths, Brock's voice is treated with small room reverb.
The entire arrangement is claustrophobic. There's some melodic, if downbeat sax from Nik Turner in
between vocal stanzas (and some fairly crap squalling towards the end). But...well, I'll leave the but for the
end of the review, and move onto nearly the last track, which is another version of Solitary Mind Games.
This seems to have a warmer arrangement on Huw's vocals, a little more humanistic, perhaps, and
surprisingly it seems to work just as well as or better than the starker delivery we've become used to. I like
the contrast of the soft arpeggios, keening lead guitar, elegaic organ voicings and beneath it all is a distorted
guitar chiming out chords. An improvement on the original, this.
Disc Two concludes with that essential 2:41 single edit of the 1982 remake of Silver Machine, a subject on
which I took a vow of silence a short time ago.
To wrap up, then, I have several, possibly conflicting, ideas about this album. It's one that I like, and for
me the core tracks, as first released on vinyl, have a coherence about them that is not all that common a
thing with Hawkwind albums. The production and the material are a happy match, and the band was, if
anything ahead of its' time in terms of the direction they were exploring. This made-in-1982 music might
have come from 1986, I feel. I started out thinking everything here had an undifferentiated 1980's
provenance, but with the bonus material (including the remade Silver Machine and Psychedelic Warlords),
the contemporary influences are just slightly behind the times, so that the drum sounds are tinnier, there's
more reverb, even the keyboard voices here and there smack of 1980-vintage synthpop. And for a lot of
these numbers, this approach works (perhaps they were written then). With the two aforementioned songs,
it turned out to be a very unsympathetic treatment of the material.
There is also the Brock solo material that makes up 25% of the bonus material, and this slightly dents my
liking for this reissue. I've gone on record elsewhere as saying I like that stuff about half as much as I like
real Hawkwind. Here, it's about three-quarters as good as the real deal. That is an entirely subjective call
and many will disagree. But most fans will enjoy this reissue greatly, and it's another excellent title from
1st January 2011: a new year, and another review of this same album, courtesy of Graham P, who is of
course a regular contributor to this site....
The Atomhenge reissue series has been going through an indifferent patch, with some average albums
bolstered by few or no bonus tracks of interest. Space Bandits reminded me how good Hawkwind sounded
with Bridget and Simon House in the ranks but there were no major revelations in the bonus tracks. Now,
Choose Your Masques represents a period in Hawkwind history that is far from being one of my favourites,
for all sorts of reasons: the primitive thudding rhythms, brittle 1980s NWOBHM production values, Dave
Brock's experiments with electronics, pop music, and spoken or chanted vocals, the tuneless title track,
Harvey's "Dreamworker", recycling of past singles, and so on. Set against this, there is also much to like:
Huw's guitar playing and songs are spot on, there are a few classic riffs from Dave (well, all right, one:
"Arrival in Utopia"), and some good melodies. Nik is there (or thereabouts) adding colour but far from being
the irritatingly dominant force (on stage) he became over the next year or so. Even "Dreamworker" isn't that
bad, although two versions is one too many, and the "extended" version is actually ten seconds shorter than
the original (although this is a good thing!). The remake of Psychedelic Warlords, sung by Huw and
featuring his distinctive lead guitar, is (to these ears) rather excellent.
This is a fascinating piece of archaeology, helped along by Brian Tawn's excellent sleeve notes. We all know
that Church of Hawkwind started life as a Dave Brock solo album but here we see how some of the tracks
that finally appeared on his solo Earthed to the Ground LP apparently started life as Hawkwind tracks,
notably the embryonic title track (here known as "Lato Percussive Electro"). This track, with Nik on sax,
has the "Earthed to the Ground" lyrics but an arrangement and delivery more reminiscent of "Star Cannibal".
There is also another track called (simply) "Lato", which is entirely instrumental and appears to be a close
relative of "Void City". Other discarded tracks also had an afterlife. The rather excellent "Candle Burning"
became a Huw Lloyd-Langton solo track (and is not the same track as featured on the 1985 radio show...
that being a Hawkwind rendition of "Got Your Number", another Night Air track). For the record this was
joined on the radio show by two medleys, which if memory serves me correctly were called "Assault of the
Hawk" and "Magnu, Dreamworker of Time"). "5/4" also made it onto the odds and ends release Out and
Intake. "Radio Telepathy" features an early version of the "Right to Decide" lyrics. There is also one totally
unfamiliar title, "Recent Reports", a fairly decent mid-paced jam/spoken word piece.
Masques also marks the period when Hawkwind's dalliance with Flicknife led to them losing major label
backing, basically for ever. Of course that way we got access to lots of side projects and out-takes but you
have to wonder what might have been.