Blood of the Earth - the single CD edition
How do Hawkwind sound now that Dave Brock is approaching his 8th decade? The single CD version of
the new release suggests that the answer is something along the lines of "rather good, actually". IMHO this
is a better album than Take Me To Your Leader and certainly it offers something closer to a â€œclassic"
This is not the same band as the one that brought us Take Me To Your Leader. Gone, obviously, are Alan
Davey, Jason Stuart (RIP) and Arthur Brown, and in come Tim Blake, Niall Hone and Mr Dibs. The first
surprise is how little Alan Davey is missed - I mean, in concert he was a key figure and I love much of his
solo work but, whomsoever's fault it was, in truth there aren't that many Hawkwind classics deriving from
his pen. So, the lesson is never denigrate your roadie! The three songs from Mr Dibs (Darbyshire) are what
makes this album tick (note though that all band members except Dave Brock receive co-credits on these
songs). Okay, these songs are already somewhat over-familiar from their live incarnations but they are all
still pretty good. Niall Hone's instrumental offering, "Green Machine", is a master class in tasteful guitar
work, fits seamlessly into the flow of the album and is another high point. Tim Blake offers one pleasant
sounding if unexceptional original in "Inner Visions", his first contribution to a Hawkwind studio album for
30 years and certainly more ballsy than his typical solo work. Jason Stuart is remembered through his co-
written instrumental "Starshine", which provides a suitably low key ending to the album. From Richard
Chadwick, not a squeak - so nothing along the lines of Angela Android or Digital Nation here.
To be fair to Dave Brock, not many 70-year olds are writing classic space rock or classic anything but â
€œSeahawks", a resolutely average mainly instrumental track, and "Blood of the Earth", which Iâ€™d rate
as filler, are a thoroughly unimpressive opening pair and are going to win precisely zero new converts.
However, before we conclude that Brocky's main contribution is to have (as ever) freshened the Hawkwind
sound by judicious introduction of new members and selected old boys, we should note that â€œComfy
Chair" is at least interestingly quirky and, despite the absence of killer new tracks, DB is able to call on a
nicely beefed up version of the 30-year old "Sweet Obsession", a poppy song from his first solo album, and
a stone-cold classic 36-year old oldie in "You'd Better Believe It". If â€œSpirit of the Age" was a clever
remake, it still wasn't a patch on this one. It gains a new, slow, instrumental mid-section but it still rocks
and Hawkwind tracks don't get much better than this - until we get a decent revision of "Lord of Light", this
will have to do!
This is the vinyl
album cover should it
prove to have any
differences from the
1CD or 2CD versions
This first review is by
Grahm P to whom
my grateful thanks
Blood of the Earth - the 2CD edition [Review by Steve]
I don't know if there are far-flung hairy-arsed Hawkwind fans in the Antipodes or elsewhere still waiting for
this album to reach them, but it feels as though I was the last person in the world to receive it. Weâ€™ve
been spoiled by recent Atomhenge releases, but I've really no criticism to make of the service from amazon.
co.uk who supplied my copy. Which is the 2CD version, handsomely accoutre'd in a clamshell box, double
card sleeve and 24-page colour booklet, which includes sleeve notes, lyrics, and a tracklisting which claims
Starshine to be included. However, it isn't on the 2CD version.
Did I buy three copies?
Seahawks opens the album with, well, a sea of samples, before drums and bass emerge from the electronic
ooze, and carve out a mesmeric, funk-inflected groove. Edgy keyboards add texture before a
claustrophobic lead guitar motif completes the familiar sensation of something revolving off-centre. Spoken
minimal lyrics round out the dystopian mood, and the track trundles along for a further five minutes or so,
the sonic equivalent of a supermarket trolley, doomsday-bound with a wonky wheel.
The title track is next and it fades in with some tasteful delayed keyboards, more typical of Ozric Tentacles
than of Hawkwind. But again, the dense collage of samples and white noise (there's a lot of puffing and
hissing on this album) drift into earshot...presaging more darkly narrated lyrics. This could almost be a
continuation of Seahawks -certainly in terms of mood- and as others have remarked, it is a strange way to
open the album, with two ambient-yet-unsettling tracks placed back-to-back. I'm not a great enthusiast for
this particular thread of Hawkwindry, but they are the only people who really do this sort of thing, and this
search-for-the-dark-side is a mark of their artistic integrity, I think. Lemmy once said "...we weren't
looking for peaceful, we were looking for horrid..." and in a way, that's still the case.
The album then strikes out in a different direction, with the punky Wraith - the standout track on the
album. This is of course tried-and-tested in live performance (and there is a live version among the bonus
tracks on the 2nd CD). The main riff is not a million miles away from "Death Trap" but Dibs' vocals are
quintessential space rock, giving this track a Litmus-like flavor. There's a brilliantly insane ascending chord
sequence leading into a lead passage of Tim Blake's synth-generated virtual lead guitar. Then a bit of
pumping Brock rhythm guitar before a nicely concise mid-song breakdown. As this number moves into
jam territory, one notable thing is how overactive the drums are. Richard Chadwick can keep a song
moving along like nobody's business, but has lately taken to thrashing his way around the kit at most of the
conceivable opportunities that arise (and some that don't). The effect is balanced halfway between the
clumsy battering of Black Sabbath's Bill Ward, and the premature ejaculations of the bloke who sat on the
stool for the Buzzcocks. Which sounds like a harsh criticism, but actually...I rather like it! Anyway, we
come out of this into a final chorus-plus-verse before a repeat of the ascending chord sequence closes it
out. This track is excellent: a taut, exciting, blasting away of the cobwebs, perfectly structured and ideally
timed at 6 minutes.
Next up, Green Machine is a Niall Hone-penned synthy instrumental which quickly resolves into some
lovely plaintive lead guitar over a gently pulsing bass and celestial keyboard chords. It doesn't progress
beyond this, but makes for a relaxing four minutes, just long enough to soften you up for...Tim Blake's
Inner Visions. This pits some almost sickly-sweet lyrics against an angular ostinato (riff) with Tim's
vocals retaining a trace of his gravelly timbre despite valiant efforts on his part to smooth out the delivery.
Unfortunately Mr. Blake's penchant for Europop doesn't completely go away, either. The darksome tones
overlaid by this becoming a Hawkwind track do not completely obscure the jaunty underpinningsâ€¦and
jaunty seems to be the word of the moment, with the succeeding track being Sweet Obsession. Where it
differs from the preceding Tim Blake song is that the Hawkwind treatment is much less to the fore, here.
This first saw the light of day on Dave Brock's 1984 solo album Earthed To The Ground, and I usually
enjoy that sort of material about 50% as much I like Hawkwind proper. I'd give this one about 60 or 70%
on that scale - it has frankly far too busy an arrangement. But the drums stay clear of the excessive fills I
complained about earlier, pumping along nicely, and I am wondering how much of the original track still
remains in this mix - could this actually be a drum machine, in part at least? The bass also shows a light
touch, with Mr.Dibs starting to add some Alan Davey-style flourishes here and there. The rest of the
arrangement consists of feathery layers of guitar and keyboards over a Brock vocal that is almost poppy. A
Comfy Chair, however, is the flagship Brock composition on this album, almost by default with the others
being soundscapes (Seahawks) or revisitations of past achievement (Sweet Obsession & You'd Better
Believe It). It's pretty atypical for the Captain, deploying a balladish opening of quiet, restrained vocals over
clean-toned guitar arpeggios. The instrumental middle passage lasts a couple of minutes before returning to
the almost pastoral opening motif. There is a nagging familiarity about this, recalling something or other on
Take Me To Your Leader. Even the palindromic song structure leans in the same direction... I think it's a
new take on the ideas first sketched in Out Here We Are on their last album, but set in a quite distinct and
different musical context. This too was unexpected, but it works well.
As with Wraith, Prometheus is familiar to gig-going fans. Here, it almost duplicates the sitar-dominated
opening of the Beatles' track "Within You Without You" (on Sgt.Pepper), but moves into that measured,
pulsing, laidback groove that seems to be the hallmark of the current band. The choruses lift proceedings
nicely; a deft bit of songwriting. Credits go to Darbyshire / Hone / Blake / Chadwick (also the case with
Wraith and Sentinel)...it seems like Niall is finding his niche in the band to such an extent that they're
collectively starting to carve out this distinctive signature to add to Dave Brock's heavy influence. In these
latter years of Hawkwind's existence they of course require this infusion of the new, but on this album it
seems to me that Darbyshire / Hone / Blake / Chadwick axis predominates. Personally I would like to hear
a lot more Brock wallop!
You'd Better Believe It...only previously available as a live recording (most augustly from January 1974
on Hall of the Mountain Grill), it is here recorded as a studio version. As with many of these reworkings of
old numbers, the modern arrangement hasn't the primitive power of the original - but you can often say that
of studio v. live versions when it comes to any Hawkwind song. This chugs along quite satisfactorily with
a fair bit of melodic lead guitar sprinkled on top, before a new middle section changes things around. This
has a laidback vibe of jazzy organ tones over a minimalist pulse from the rhythm section, but some tasteful
lead guitar strikes a more cosmic note (well actually, he plays more than one note!) - a definite
enhancement. The 1974 live version would have benefitted from this light-and-shade; without it this song
can descend into a leaden churn through the chord progression. On balance...putting an old song on a new
album is not what I think they should do, but they get away with it :-) This resurrection gets a thumbs up...
Sentinel is another one that's been in the live set for over a year, and it features a Dibs vocal that
exemplifies a characteristic of his, which I might call a limitation. There is a particular dominant frequency
in his voice, particularly when he sings in a higher register as here, giving the impression that everything he
sings is on the same note. It isn't. I think this used to be more pronounced in Mr.Dibs' Spacehead days,
and here it seems to be magnified by the arrangement of multitrack vocals in the chorus. Anyway, this is a
slow-to-mid-paced soulful workout, again bereft of much Brock influence (lead guitar notwithstanding). A
decent number, which I prefer to the spoken / electronic tracks on this album, but it doesn't...quite...do it
Onto the 2nd CD now, and it comprises seven live tracks followed by an odd thing which I'll come on to.
(Not literally...it's not that good!) These live tracks start with a very recent Space, which weâ€™ve also
referred to in the Gig & Set Lists pages as "Space is Deep Poem". For it is another dystopian narration, this
time of the Space is Deep lyrics over a sparse backdrop of synths (at least it isnâ€™t a fairground ride
backing track). This is followed by a muscular Angels of Death, slightly let down by the arrangement of
the choruses. I asked the lovely Mrs. Starfarer what she thought of the (to my ears) somewhat ropey jam
in the middle section. "I like it because it's kind of mindless, like hippy Club music. I can imagine kids on
ecstasy just jamming out to that music." Not the ones at the 2002 Hawkfest who pooed all over the
portaloos, I hope. Now, that was a load of crap...unlike this... It's excellent to hear Hawkwind once again
jamming like they used to circa 1972. It reminds me of Doremi-era noodling, as on Time We Left, or the
Roadhawks version of You Shouldn't Do That... This is another change that's come over the band and I
would ascribe it to the replacement of Alan Davey with Mr.Dibs. Another welcome touch is the presence
of Jon Sevink's violin on these live tracks - he is every bit as good as Simon House and even seems to
wring very similar tones and phrases out of his instrument.
The live version of Wraith follows. Of course it isn't as good as the studio recording on disc 1, but that's
a tough act to follow. Here the punky ethos is stronger, but the quiet passage in the middle of the song
works better, perhaps, building up the tension, and underpinning some widdly lead guitar from Niall Hone.
Brock synths can be heard whirling away too, as this builds to an exciting climax. But then...a Tim Blake
number, Tide of the Century, hoves into view. This is truer to Tim's solo stuff than Inner Visions and
consequently carries more conviction, despite the lighter mood of this piece. The band donâ€™t seem to
tread all over it to the same extent, and Jon Sevink supplies some very sympathetic violin colourings to
leaven the dominant synth voices...
Hawkwind get the motors running again with Magnu. It begins with a Warriors at the Edge of Time
narration from Dibs, which is one of the better exercises of this type; but the opening portamento'd
keyboard chords are the best thing about it, until Magnu proper gets going. It's a pretty classic
arrangement of this old warhorse of a song, Mr.Dibs in particular doing a really good job of propelling the
main riff along with some pumping bass tones, again reminiscent of Alan Davey's style but without
dominating the sound of the band as Alan did sometimes. Tim Blake also shines with some more virtual
lead guitar - in fact the entire band execute this with gusto. They also manage the Brainbox Pollution
interlude really well, and thanks to Dibs' perfect understanding of what the bass needs to do, pull off the
brief but usually unconvincing interlude that comes right after the lines "Flying hoofbeats circling in / come
to me and let us spin..."
Levitation is another one that often features a suboptimal arrangement when played live, the vocal lines on
the chorus just following the chord progression instead of the melody line on the original. It's a halfway
house on this rendition, with the backing vocals sticking to the melody. The band then adapt the transition
between that and the fantastic brutal riffing of the middle section. It would have been good to hear Niall cut
loose with some lead guitar Ã la Huw Lloyd-Langton here, and he does do something, but itâ€™s a more
introverted, textural exercise rather than a soaring lead. The final verse / chorus exemplify the steamroller
approach that the band adopted for this, and it fits perfectly. A good version.
Syd Barrett track Long Gone appears next. This was recorded by the band for a tribute to Syd, and while
I don't know the original, I would imagine this version to be much changed from it. It's a s/pacey - heavy
three minutes of cosmic bludgeoning, which is a decent addition to the album if not in the forefront of what
the band can do. But it's miles better than the final track, Interview 2010. This is the â€œLetter to Robert"
moment on this album, featuring snatches of multiple comic conversations / narration over a completely
unstructured backing of samples, tinkling piano, funny noises, electronic bleeps, etc.. It makes no sense
and wasn't meant to. Richard Chadwick drags his ridiculous glove puppet out for the occasion, who
despite performing naked (?!) has the temerity to ask: does the world need another Hawkwind album? The
answer is yes of course, but I don't know that that it needed to include this track, even if it does have a
couple of beautiful little synth pieces tacked onto the end of it.
So that's the end, and it's time to take stock. Those who appreciate the heavy rock riffing of 1970s
Hawkwind will find less to enjoy here than fans whose interest is in the more keyboard-dominated 80s and
90s. But it is still a decent album, which does a good job of reflecting the sound and direction of the band
in 2010. They've moved on from the last studio album, 2005's Take Me To Your Leader, but in terms of
quality the two albums stand side-by-side, as being among the better things that Hawkwind have done over
the latter stages of their career. My personal reaction is that there's not enough of Dave Brock's guitar
work here, but the band are moving into new territory and may yet find the perfect balance (as on Wraith)
between that magical ingredient and the burgeoning influence of the Darbyshire / Hone / Blake / Chadwick
connection. There's plenty of life left in the old dog yet.