|Daze of the Underground - Hawkwind Tribute CD Review|
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|The question that always comes to mind with tribute albums - what was the motivation of each of the artists who appear on the album? I suppose it is a given that they are in some way "fans" of the act to whom tribute is being paid, but there's more to it than that. Do they pick a particular song because they feel the definitive version is still out there waiting to be nailed down? Because some completely different interpretation is possible? Out of affection for the original band? Or do they do it only because they can? This latter is important with a Hawkwind tribute album, as the music is, let's face it, not complex: most musicians would find your average Hawkwind cover version well within their capabilities. Whether it's done with any empathy or just bludgeoned out garage-band style is a real pointer to this scenario. On the 1995 Assassins of Silence / Hundred Watt Violence tribute album (which I've reviewed here on this site) there were definitely a couple of bands who I suspect undertook the task because here was something just about within their limited capabilities. It doesn't necessarily make for a bad cover version, taken within the context of an album as a whole, but as individual tracks some of these can be decidedly ropey.
Daze of the Underground differs from earlier tributes by dint of having some name Space Rock acts on it, including people who are current or ex-members of Hawkwind. So the initial reaction is that this is a higher-budget exercise than Assassins of Silence / Hundred Watt Violence, for example. But what it does have in common with the first tribute is that the acts on Daze Of The Underground are Space Rockers and not rave / trance / techno artists out to retrospectively claim a rock basis for their sub-genre...I'm thinking here of the 1996 Rituals of the Solstice tribute - but then, I'm prejudiced against dance acts, anyway. Godreah Records released this album, and while they lean in the direction of various forms of Death Metal (and so are unlikely to have brought in any techno acts!) they've done a good job of securing the services of a wide variety of artists to appear.
The booklet that comes with this CD is quite lavish. The front and back cover of it are in colour (see scanned copies above) and inside, there are 18 monochrome pages, the first four of which are devoted to Hawkwind themselves (a three-page history and a mid-80's photo on the 4th page). Each of the artists appearing on the album then gets a photo, a note as to their geographical origin, a brief description of their contribution (no I didn't consult these in putting this review together) and a listing of the Dramatis Personae (line-up of the band in question). Of the 27 bands on this CD, twelve are billed as being from England, six from the USA, two from each of Finland, Japan and Australia, one from Italy and one from Sweden. Tim Blake is from "Europe".
The notes also point out that a number of tracks included on this CD have actually been knocking around for some time - quite a few were recorded in 1997-99 - and one or two are live. The uniformly decent sound quality leads me to think that some post-production work has been done by Godreah Records (not that it's mentioned in the notes) - the patchiness that you would expect just isn't there....the overall impression that I get is that this is a relatively well-funded undertaking: if any of these numbers were laid down on a four-track in someone's bedroom, I'd be very surprised.
The first pleasant surprise is Tim Blake's rendition of Spirit of the Age. Only after hearing it did I realise I was expecting it to be weak - it has sometimes been a bit thin when Tim has performed this live with Hawkwind. Here he achieves the feat of bringing the song into the 21st century but without distancing it too far from its' classic Hawkwind roots. The instrumentation stops short of being "lush", having just enough minimalism to give it a modern edge. The crisp drums are close enough to a live sound to nicely counteract the keyboard dominated vibe. Nice one Timmy...
Litmus follow with Paradox. And this illustrates something else about tribute albums - Litmus don't fall into the trap of showing excessive respect for the original. Any time you hear a cover version where the timing and phrasing have not slavishly followed the original, it usually speaks of innovation. They start off fairly faithfully with a swooping bassline, delayed onset of the percussion and some very Brocklike vocals, but when the song goes into the blanga refrain section, Litmus stretch out a bit by subtly altering the vibe. As the track progresses, this tendency becomes more marked. Again, there is a good balance between striking some familiar notes (the keyboard voices are very authentic) and innovating something new (check out the guitar solo).
|The version of Levitation that Amorphis offer takes the percussive, syncopated opening of the original studio version of the song and uses this to characterise the entire track. It's a guitar dominated enjoyable thrash which loses its' distinctiveness in a relatively lacklustre middle section - perhaps they fall into the trap of paying too much respect, since you can also hear puffs of breath in one place, exactly like the live version on Hawkwind’s Do Not Panic album...
Spacehead tackle 'The Right Stuff', and for the first time ever I really understand what Mr.Dibs is doing on the bass. This is the perfect number for his upfront, pumping style. Calvertesque vocals hark back to the original version on Captain Lockheed & the Starfighters, with Messrs. Needham and Barton supplying some good-to-middling guitar soloing over the riff without deflecting the driving power that Spacehead succeed in delivering.. Going back to Mr.Dibs, though, I see him now as looking to cover the same sort of territory as Alan Davey did on "Images" from the Space Bandits album; the bass playing uncomplicated riffs but taking the spotlight by dint of playing right on or even slightly ahead of the beat, and being high in the mix. This number ends nicely with a bit of guitar wig out which is not allowed to outstay its' welcome. A very creditable effort.
Arrival In Utopia from Meads of Asphodel is next up. I was expecting an unintelligible thrash, and it isn't anything of the kind.. The guitar is very close to the original Brock and Langton parts, and this would be a terrific success were it not for the abysmal vocals, which are an attempt at a death metal snarl, but merely sound oafish. The Meads turn in a brand new midsection which enhances the song and shows off some sympathetic guitar soloing... The notes in the CD booklet confirm that Alan Davey played bass on this track and Huw Lloyd Langton supplied (some of the) guitar, so that explains the authenticity, perhaps.
It's only when you hear Song Of The Swords, as murdered by the next band (The Enchanted) that you realise quite how good Meads of Asphodel were. This is a 1980's style thrash with divebombing lead guitar and sub-Slipknot vocals. The Enchanted fall into the category of doing it because they can just about manage it, for my money....
Bedouin chase this drag-on with Sword Of The East, which Alan Davey of course penned himself, so it almost isn't a cover version. For me, the problem with this is that Glenn Povey is a quintessential Strat player, more suited to the Fast Eddie Clarke school of heavy rock than the Dave Brock - which is almost an unfair criticism, as if Bedouin were only an originals version of Ace Of Spades. Glenn's rendition of the guitar solos does beat HLL's into a cocked hat, though. He's a real *rock* player who bends the strings as far as they'll go. Alan Davey and Danny Thompson are familiar enough to Hawkwind fans to really require nothing further to be said about them in particular. This live track is typical Bedouin, balls to the wall and taking no prisoners.
Silver Machine the band take on Silver Machine the song, and they pull a very smart move here by going for the feel of the original single version of the song. It is if anything slightly slower than the original, with the guitar riffing around the basic chords, and synth effects not too dissimilar from the VCS3 and audio generator that adorned Hawkwind’s one and only proper hit. Which was itself a live recording, and this sounds positively lush by dint of having been laid down in a studio rather than a former engine shed!
I've never heard of The Murkins before, and I wonder if I will again. They perhaps don't deserve the obscurity that is probably beckoning, here turning in a cover of Psi Power which is too faithful to the original album version on Hawklords / 25 Years On. The synth solo originally laid down by Steve Swindells in the middle section is faithfully replicated on guitar and then we get the quiet verse, same as on the original... The single note guitar motif at the end of each chorus is here, note-for-note, and the multitracked breathy vocals pay homage to what was on the original too. It's only with the coda, where we hear a guitar solo that there is any departure. The spoken 'Square...Triangle...Circle" outro is there too, but is at least compressed down from the Hawklords' version.
|Now, imagine the Kinks performing Quark Strangeness and Charm, and you have an idea of how Quarkspace tackle it. Jangling acoustic guitars, a bright barroom piano and a taut, nasally snare drum propel this along at a pace faster than the original. There is a guitar solo which wanders away from this template midsong, but still manages to fit with the overall vibe for the most part. The vocal interjections are very reminiscent of Bob Calvert. Well, this works. I like it!
Overmars offer us "Magnu" which is going to be tough to do as it's one of Dave Brock's finest moments. That riff is there, all right, but it's maybe just a little too staccato, giving this number the feeling of having unintended holes in every bar - which the vocalist tries to cover by smoothing out his delivery rather than phrasing his lines within the guitar riffs. Overmars lift their game in the middle section though, which is great to hear as Hawkwind themselves never played it with any conviction after the original studio version on Warrior On The Edge of Time. The coda of the original is where Hawkwind really shine as a band, and I was waiting to see what Overmars would do with it - the answer is "not very much", though it's perfectly adequate by almost any other standards.
Alpha Omega induce a bout of Reefer Madness which has some of the same problems as the preceding Overmars track. Brock is a mighty impressive rhythm guitarist, but his choppy style needs a very fluid band behind it...I like the chorus effect that appears on the guitar in the second verse, but then we get the spoken interlude ("stole my stash") which I think just doesn't work at all - this bit would have been better intoned over a continuing groove. Alpha Omega segue this straight into a freeform jam, which again I think misses the mark. A wah guitar solo doesn't really rescue them from this - c'mon lads, I want you to do well (Reefer Madness is a very underrated track) and you're floundering here - a final chorus brings us back onto the mark, and it's a pity Alpha Omega don't stretch it out a bit farther from that..
Texan space rockers ST37 are alleged to have a more amphetamine-like vibe rather than the LSD overtones of most practitioners within this genre. They show it off with Orgone Accumulator, which probably strives to pay homage to the classic version on Space Ritual - but it ends up reminding me more of the "Undisclosed Files Addendum" version from 1984, with Nik Turner on vocals. What is nice about this is the cloud of synth and audio generator-like tones surrounding the drums-guitar-bass blanga...but I feel this would have had slightly more power if it had been slowed down a trifle.
History of Guns are another new name and they too cover Magnu. To give credit, this makes no attempt to be faithful to the original, with a totally different arrangement. Dense, opaque keyboards lay down a carpet of fuzz in the background with a punkish vocal sounding isolated from all the other instruments. There is a nice drumloop at the beginning of the middle section, but then it all falls apart as we wander perilously close to techno territory with wailing lead guitar clashing horribly with the percussive beats. This is awful. It ends abruptly right after the middle section, and not a moment too soon IMHO.
CD2 gets under way with a band called Brainstorm covering Master Of The Universe. This is immediately gripping, with the beautifully sparse qualities of the ISOS original studio version coming across despite the very different arrangement, mellotron-like keyboard and flute to the fore. The vocals start disastrously with the singer sounding as though he has his chin pressed down on his Adam's apple, but they come right within a line or two. And then the band pick the pace up, distorted guitars kicking in, with a sitar-ish sounding solo (which is actually played on the guitar) disinterring a previously unknown eastern vibe. There are a couple of instrumental passages like this before the vocals come back in, and do the same thing all over again - for gawd's sake, man, SING, don't yodel! But as before, the strangled quality of the vocals eases, and it’s all brought to a very satisfying conclusion.
|Another great sounding opening heralds Sigh's version of Psychedelic Warlords. A fluid funk-driven guitar rides over layers of atmospheric synth. Unfortunately the vocals on the verses let the side down terribly, sounding like a lame white boy version of Sly and the Family Stone. On the chorus, the vocals are vocoder'd which helps, but you keep thinking "where's the beef?" A soulful guitar solo in the middle passage is really very skillfully done, and provides one of the best bits of musicianship on the album so far, but by this time Sigh have lost their way. This track is sinking into a morass of muzak-tinged disco, and I am really very sorry to have to say this, because I think they had a great idea in trying to bring out the funk qualities of Psychedelic Warlords - but it needs to be sweaty, 70's driving funk, not George Benson inspired niceties like this. Sorry.
Farflung are another famous name (well, in space rock circles - obscure as hell to the world at large!) and Robot is their brief. It's very competently done, no misjudgments here, and not too much inspiration either. This could be a live tape of Hawkwind themselves doing this song in 1978 or so. There is some lead guitar yowling away in the middle of the mix that sounds exactly like one of the keyboard parts in of the live versions already out there. Vocals very similar to the original, familiar arrangement...and when you recall that all Hawkwind versions of this are live, it seems like a missed opportunity not to have seen what could be done with this song in the studio.
Spirits Burning, who I think are some sort of Bay Area collective, do a bit better than Farflung with their version of High Rise. The vocals are again a little too derivative of Calvert's trademarks, but the keyboard-dominated arrangement does a great job of emphasising the minor chords in the chord progression, really bringing out the mournful qualities of this number, There are also, for perhaps the first time on this CD, some trademarked Dave Brock synth patterns which do not merely echo what was on the original, but convey the Hawkwind feel by providing familiar sounds in new settings. A great demented guitar solo wisely avoids trying to emulate Brock’s superbly plaintive version on the original - this one swoops all over the place without trying to stuff too many notes into too short a time. This is a great track. Special mention goes to the violinist!
Moonglum is such an awesome track, probably the crowning achievement of Huw Lloyd Langton's career. But that was the version on Live Chronicles, and what he does with it here is frankly poor, or so I thought at first. But as the track progresses, you get used to the idea of Moonglum as a guitar player's track, not a storming rock classic... And it works on this level. This would do well if put on the CD's included with magazines like Guitarist...Huw's playing is understated, elegant, even. On the other hand, most of the lead guitar doesn't seem to have enough sustain on it and could do with being higher in the mix, but yes, I could get used to this.
Hurry On Sundown was a standout track on the Assassins of Silence / Hundred Watt Violence tribute album, where it was given a Byrds-y flavour by The Petals. Here, Marshan approach it from a subtly different angle, with a folky feel and what I first took to be mixed male / female vocals reminding me of the Mamas and Papas - the band have since emailed me to say there are no female vocals, the effect was attained with the use of surgical clamps :-) The harmonica solo is beautifully done and fits superbly with the overall vibe - like the best tracks on this CD, it pays its' respects to the original but has enough innovation about it to steer clear of being derivative.
Circle's treatment of Don't Understand is so innovative that I had no idea what it was and had to look down at the CD booklet to find out. Repetitive rhythms played by humans, not machines, and Circle's trademark atonality and wordless vocals just below the threshold of audibility are here. I can't really see this as anything other than a piece of original music by Circle, and while it is head and shoulders above many of the other cuts here, does it really belong on a CD with such relatively low ambitions as a Hawkwind tribute?
DarXtar opt for a recreation of the acoustic "Watcher" which first appeared on the Doremi Fasol Latido album. Doubled vocals, too, with just a drone guitar in the background to do much in the way of differentiation. While Hawkwind are currently playing a muscular rendition of this in their live set, to be honest I thought Motorhead had really nailed it on their first album with their all-out rock version. But this one is a very credible performance of the song as it was first envisaged, and probably one done out of affection rather than anything else. It ends with snoring too, or was that me I wonder.
Another Lemmy number, Motorhead, gets the treatment next, this time from Acid King. Slowed down to a crawl with fuzzed out droning rhythm guitar which sits oddly with the clearly-articulated high-pitched vocals. Full marks for originality - this sounds like a different song altogether, and kind of works in a twisted way. Like the Circle track, it's better if you think of it as an original piece - it doesn't really work at all as part of a Hawkwind tribute album.
Beggars Farm take on We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago, and while I'd like to say the results beggar belief, this isn't the case. They take the song and strip the psychedelic mushiness away from it, back to its' folk roots, and then add an Eastern-sounding sitar or summat. The vocals are a bit weak, and I get the feeling that this number is pitched just a little too low for this singer - transposing the whole thing upwards by a step or two would probably have fixed this.
|Another big name enters the fray, with Sloterdijk taking us into the Golden Void. This starts out as a sludgy dirge, quite unlike what I'd expected after seeing main man Mike Burro perform a skiffle set as part of the One-Eyed Bishops. I don't know what he is thinking here - true, this is nothing like any other version of this song that you've ever heard, and we are giving points for originality...but... A decent guitar solo starts at about 4:15 and I was hoping this would be the springboard for the song to take on some kind of life at a higher biological level than the amoebic, but without the vocals, things get worse rather than better. The song disintegrates into a random selection of strange noises before mercifully coming to an end after about 6 minutes.
Harvey Bainbridge provides a track called "Acid House of Dreams", which is actually the vocal samples from "Dreamworker" on Choose Your Masques, grafted onto a revisitation of the Acid Test track from the Palace Springs album. I'm not particularly a fan of Harvey's dystopial soundscapes, and this one is a more modern-sounding remake of past glories. If you like Harvey’s solo stuff, this is a particularly well executed example.
Acid Mothers Temple, who are reputedly completely mad in musical terms, bring things to a close with You Know You're Only Dreaming. The original wah'd guitar chord progression is still there, shrouded in layers of synth, sound effects, and general weirdness, each element of which can be picked out and identified as having a genuine Hawkwind pedigree. Until, that is, you hear the guitar solo which is playing either no tune at all or a hundred different ones. With the drums falling around all over the place, it's like hearing one of those chaotic Hendrix jams at the end of a song, heralding imminent disintegration. Some early Pink Floyd Mad Scientist type vibes are thrown in there too, although the drums then pick up and restore some rhythm to this insane soup. I dare say only the Japanese could come up with something like this....some graffiti in San Francisco that I saw once started off with "Remember Pearl Harbour", to which a second hand had appended "Remember Hiroshima". Succeeding entries were "Remember Toyota" and then "...Sushi". I think Acid Mother's Temple could be added to that list - but what an entertaining racket they make! It's got nothing at all to do with Hawkwind in my opinion, but it's been a long two-and-a-half hours...
Overall then, a damn good album, and I have written this entirely at the first hearing - believing initial impressions to be best when one is familiar with the material, as is the case here. Tempting as it is to draw further comparisons with the Assassins Of Silence / Hundred Watt Violence tribute album, I don't think this is the same kind of thing at all. The earlier album sought to present a nascent scene (American space rock bands of the mid-90's) and this album, I think, is much closer to being what it says: a tribute CD. I said at the beginning of this review that there are several potential motivations for bands to be involved in this kind of exercise, and in most cases this seems to be driven by wanting to acknowledge a debt to Hawkwind and their music. I can't say that any of the bands here have risen to the heights of producing the definitive version of any of the numbers on the CD, but any Hawkwind fan will enjoy this, and it's a very good deal, two and a half hours for the (full) price of a single CD album.
A special thanks to the person or persons who put the sleeve notes together, and included starfarer.net in the list of Hawkwind websites. Thanks too to CDS Services for getting my copy to me as soon as release problems were overcome - and now that you’ve read this, you might want to read another opinion of this same album, over at Review Of A Review, right here on my site, and brought to you by the fantastically kind indulgence of Andy G. :-) Read it and you'll see what I mean!