Earthed To The Ground / Agents Of Chaos review
Front and back cover of the CD, which was
released by Voiceprint in 2003
These two titles were Dave Brock's first two solo albums, released in 1984 and 1988 respectively.  They
have been reissued as a double CD set by Voiceprint, with a few extra tracks.  The packaging is on the
minimal side, although there are some sleeve notes which helpfully identify the extra tracks.  Each of the
CD's has an attractive design on the disc itself.  Earthed To The Ground is the same design as was on the
sleeve of the original vinyl album - a John Coulthart illustration of Dave Brock in a lab coat carrying a guitar
mutating into a machine gun.  The Agents of Chaos design is a posterized, or negative version of the same
design.

I ordered this from Voiceprint's website on December 15th 2003, and the order was acknowledged
immediately by Voiceprint Mail Order.  However I did not receive the CD until January 24th 2004: not very
impressive.  2 emails and a phone call to Voiceprint Mail Order's 1-800 toll free number elicited no response
at all, which is just plain shoddy.  On receiving the package I noticed it had been sent "priority mail" from
Sweden - not marked as airmail and without the required customs declaration, and thought this must have
been the reason for the delay.  But on further inspection, my credit card was not charged until 7th January,
i.e. three weeks after I ordered this.  I buy a lot of stuff by mail order or via the internet, and this is
undoubtedly the worst service I've received.  Another Hawkfan I talked to confirmed similar problems with
Voiceprint Mail Order's "service": they sent CD's overseas via surface mail and without sufficient
packaging, resulting in the late delivery of several shards of broken plastic.  I have reasons to think that
Voiceprint Mail Order is a distinct operation from Voiceprint proper - i.e. a completely different company is
receiving the orders and sending out the goods.  In the mail order business this is known as 'fulfillment', and
if I am right about such an arrangement being in place, I would suggest to Voiceprint that they fire the
company who are currently doing the fulfillment.  Meanwhile I would strongly suggest to anyone outside
the UK that they do NOT use Voiceprint Mail Order if it can be avoided.  Other companies can supply
Voiceprint titles in a far more professional manner.

So, on to the music.  Disc 1 contains Earthed To The Ground, with the following tracklist:

1. Earthed To The Ground
2. Assassination
3. Green Fin (sic) Demon
4. Spirits
5. Sweet Obsession
6. Oscillations
7. Machine Dream
8. Now Is The Winter
9. On The Case.

Bonus tracks:
10. Raping Robots
11. Wired Up for Sound
12. Riding The Range
13. Sleep of 1000 Tears
14. Social Alliance

This was Dave Brock's first solo album, originally released on Flicknife, and it is surprising that it took until
1984 for this to happen: the Captain had been talking about doing a solo album for a number of years.  Of
course I got hold of a copy on vinyl way back when, but did not retain it in my collection for long.  But it is
many years since I heard this and so while I remember my generally unfavourable reaction, I don't recall too
much in the way of specifics.  Besides which, I've since heard a lot more Brock solo work and may be able
to place this in some kind of context as a result...

The title track comes in with a Krautrock synth / rhthym pattern and only when some characteristic
Hawkwind synth noises drift in would you recognise this for what it is.  After a couple of minutes,
multitracked treated vocals join the fray, completing the transmutation of this track into something that
could have come straight off the Church of Hawkwind album.  Compared to most of Brock's subsequent
solo efforts this is a well-formed song.  He thows in some unusual guitar ambiance at around 4:30, a couple
of bars of which remind me that he started out as a banjo player!  And then, vocal samples confirm yes, this
is a Brock solo piece after all.  Despite clocking in at 8:26 this track is not overly long: one of the things the
Captain seems to be good at is not outstaying his welcome.

Assassination, the second track, is Some People Never Die from Church of Hawkwind.  Already on his first
solo album, here was re-use under another name of a previously released number.  Seems a complete waste
of time really - maybe he was a little short of material and threw this on to make up the time.  
Green-Finned Demon is another song that also reached the wider world under the Hawkwind banner,
though I'm not sure whether it preceded the Brock solo version or not.  The only difference between the
one here and the Hawkwind version is that the latter had drums and Huw Lloyd Langton's grafted onto it -
and some bass parts too.  The rhythm guitar part on the Brock solo version seems to be a little more
complex, particularly from the four minute mark onwards, and there is some meandering melodic lead guitar
there too, which you don't get on the Hawkwind version.  Not bad at all.

Spirits is another track that sounds surprisingly polished, musically, with a skittering drum machine rhythm,
pulsing lower-register synths, what sounds like vibraphone synth pads providing most of the harmonic
content, and a few ambient washes of white noise along the way.  I particularly like the dashes of cymbal
which bring back memories of the first Hawkwind album  The succeeding track,
Sweet Obsession, also has
a retro vibe, but is quite a different beast, being a regular *song* with verses, choruses, a brief middle
section and not one but two guitar solos.  The rhythm is fairly rudimentary, with guitar and organ
overlaying it.  Again, the vocals are multitracked and layered, almost as if Dave had little confidence in his
voice.  But then he goes for a much cleaner vocal recording on
Oscillations, though the song reverts to the
Brock solo format of being a simple keyboard-dominated piece with a few lines of lyrics.  This number is
really too short.

Machine Dream brings us back to the darker side with combined synth/guitar rhythm inducing
premonitions of doom while an organ chords above it, before suddenly wavering like smoke and coiling
away into nothingness.  (Stop me if you think I'm getting a bit carried away...)  Unfortunately the
atmospherics are spoiled by a vocal passage at the end with Dave banging on the wall and yelling in a funny
voice "...turn that down!  Can you 'ear me?!"  I thought this was why he lived on a farm.

Now Is The Winter starts off sounding like mid-period Gong with some lovely arpeggiated synth before the
familiar two-chord guitar riff fades in, and Dave starts reading the narrative in his best Richard III voice,
somehow succeeding in sounding hunchbacked, bitter and twisted, like Olivier in the title role.  This of
course subsequently appeared on the Weird 7 CD, and I didn't think much of it then.  
On The Case follows,
and was the closing track of this album when it was first issued.  It's in may ways a typical Brock solo
effort, with a very basic drum machine rhthym, a simple two-chord progession and instrumentation
consisting largely of guitar, synth and vocals.  The difference here is that there's some really excellent
acoustic guitar sprinkled in amongst the characteristic distorted riffing rhythm guitar, and the vocals aren't
heavily treated nor restricted to repetition of a few lines of lyrics.  So it's another piece that ends up being
surprisingly polished.  The final couple of minutes provide another reminder of early Hawkwind days, with
the vamped rhythm guitar, acoustic fingerpicking and shuffling rhythm...

The CD continues with the extra tracks, first of which is
Raping Robots, which I have never heard before.  
Crazy off-kilter synths and a bluesy vocal line confirm this to be B-side material, as of course it was,
backing Dave Brock's "Social Alliance" solo single.  The latter part of this track features quite a bit of
processed rhythm guitar which hacks and slashes away like the Glitter Band on acid.  It's followed by
Wired Up For Sound, which is the poorest thing on the album so far.  The guitar sounds like a drunken
version of the Magnu riff, played in a Death Trap style, with only bass and vocals accompanying.  Should
never have been let out of the studio.  
Riding The Range, though, is much better, and sounds like more
recent Brock solo material.  The lead riff from Treadmill is paired with a weeping synth chorus, and
underpinned by a much more professional sounding rhythm track.  It doesn't go anywhere much, but just
hums along pleasantly for a couple of minutes.  And then we get
Sleep Of 1000 Tears - sounding little like
the Hawkwind track of the same name, though the lyrics are the same and are whispered / murmured in a
dreamlike style (which was probably what Bridget Wishart was trying to achieve and never did IMHO.)  
The music though, is another weaving of dark forebodings and paranoid synthesizer loops, not lightened at
all by the jazzy cocktail bar marimba voice...very effective.

Social Alliance is next up, and this for once is much better done as a Dave Brock solo piece than as a
Hawkwind song.  It may be that the Hawkwind version of this, on the Zones album was just a peculiarly
horrible live recording.  Here, it's given the Brock drum machine / synth / guitar treatment and is much
tighter and more focused.  The lyrics remain fairly inane of course, and the guitar riff on the bridge is not
one I like at all. but you have to give this credit as a successful solo outing.  I'm not suggesting he should
revisit this, but it would be stronger still with some decent drum programming instead of the tsssh... tsssh...
tsssh...

All in all, a pleasant surprise.  Earthed To The Ground is a better album than I remember, bolstered further
by the extra tracks.  I can't help thinking though, that it's because my expectations were higher when I first
heard it in the mid-80's: I was probably expecting something in the style of and up to the standard of
Hawkwind's RCA albums, and that it isn't.  But having heard a lot of Dave Brock's solo material since then,
this one takes its' place as a worthy member of that particular family.  Despite the claim that Dave Brock is
Hawkwind and Hawkwind is Dave Brock, that plainly does not apply to his solo material, where he's looking
to try something different.  Earthed To The Ground succeeds in doing that.
Agents of Chaos was recorded as a collaboration between Dave Brock and Crum, of the band
Moonloonies.  The tracklist is

1. Hi-Tech Cities
2. A Day
3. In The Office
4. Hades Deep
5. Words of a Song
6. Heads
7. Nocturne
8. Wastelands of Sleep
9. Empty Dreams (actually Into The Realms - see below)
10. Infinity
11. Mountain In The Sky

This was always a much darker album than Earthed To The Ground, and is another one that I had on vinyl
and got rid of.  According to the sleeve notes the original album contained Into The Realms in place of
Infinity, and I've been told the featured version of the latter track has Lemmy appearing on it.  We will see.

Hi-Tech Cities is one of those monotonous droning tracks which I would file under "Depressing".  The
rhythm has a single-note synth tone right on top of the drum machine beat.  The arrangement is on the
sparse side with a keyboard-based bass part, synth washes low in the mix and some incidental lead guitar
which is the best thing here.  The downbeat vocals recite a snatch of the lyrics that later appeared in the
Hawkwind number 'Back in the Box' (not in itself any kind of classic).  But the mood lifts with
A Day,
which sounds as though it was laid down using the Andean Nose Flute as the lead instrument, with some
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd) style melodic layers.  This is also used later in the album as a seprarate
track called Nocturne, but here is only the first half of the song.  Halfway through it goes into a brief
passage of what sounds like Dave rummaging about in his home studio looking for a roll of gaffa tape to
repair a broken miscrophone stand.  And then, with the lyrics subsequently used on Treadmill superimposed
on it, the music comes in: a jaunty 12-bar blues heavily disguised by a plethora of distant synth figures and
rhythm guitar.

In The Office is another one that prefigures later Hawkwind material, with more of the lyrics that
subsequently appeared on Back in the Box.  (I wonder if Dave Brock has seen the inside of an office?  He
was an apprenctice capstan setter, wasn't he?!)  This is very brief and segues into
Hades Deep, featuring an
evil guitar riff which on the Live 1990 album and Live Legends video / Classic Rock DVD, was used as the
coda to Out Of The Shadows.  The vocals are whispered and threatening (I can make out the phrase
"slithering slime of earth") and the musical backing is from the familar Brock solo template: basic drum
machine, distorted guitar (with a bit of Brock The Knife thrown in) and synth layers.

Words of a Song is another brief piece, starting off wirh a radio being tuned in to, yes, more of the Back In
The Box lyrics.  Words of a Song indeed.  Then we get
Heads, which subsequently appeared on the Xenon
Codex album as a Hawkwind track.  This is a darker version, with an unusual tremelo effect on the vocals
(used here in the music technology sense, i.e. periodic variations in volume.)  It has a typical Dave Brock
rhythm guitar riff (main chord, one step up, main chord, two steps down) and some good keyboard
texture, but the number is dominated by the stark vocals.  For me this song was done to much greater
effect as an interlude in Damnation Alley (I think) on the Palace Springs album.

Nocturne, with the Andean Nose Flute and Shine On You Crazy Diamond melodic snippets is next up.  This
is the same music as was on the first half of A Day - basically the same track twice on one album, another
reprehensible move if you ask me.  And it's only two and a half minutes long and so would hardly 'make the
time up' if that was the intention.  It gives way to
Wastelands of Sleep - another track that subsequently
made it into Hawkwind's portfolio.  This version is pretty good, with a drum pattern that fairly skips along,
nice wavering keyboard chords, ethereal synth melodies and Dave's treated vocals.  The timbre of his voice
works really well on this sort of song, giving a distant, wistful quality to proceedings.  Most of it is
instrumental, though, and doesn't go anywhere particularly - just patters along for 5 minutes before fading
out.

Empty Dreams is the claimed title of the next track - but: the lyrics are the same as those shown under the
title of 'Into The Realms' on Mission Control's lyrics page, and this is in fact
Into The Realms.  It sounds a
little like the Hawkwind section of Tim Blake's 'Lighthouse', being synth-dominated with chanted vocals
almost below the threshold of audibility, which again remind me of mid-70's Gong somehow.  But then a
lead vocal pops up (not treated this time) and delivers some dystopian science fiction lyrics about the seas
boiling away and human flesh falling away from the bone.  If I lived in rural Devon I doubt I would be
thinking about this sort of stuff, but there you go.  One of Dave's talents is to conjure up these dark dreams
of disaster.  The song ends, appropriately, with a gong.

Infinity follows, and it sounds very much like the version first heard on PXR5, but with the keyboard parts
mixed much higher.  Lemmy is nowhere in evidence, so I don't know where that particular idea came
from.  The guitar parts are the same as the previously known version but played with a more muted tone,
so I'd guess that this is actually a different recording of it, not just a different mix.  And then the final track
of the album is
Mountain In The Sky.  This sounds more like some of the later solo material such as that
on Memos and Demos, featuring a kon-tiki beat which doesn't follow the standard rock 4/4 rhythm.  There
are some background vocals, a bit of acoustic or clean-sounding picked guitar and again the main melodic
content comes from a synth part.  In contrast to much of the rest of the album, it's an upbeat way to close
things out.

So, the Agents of Chaos album is much as I remembered it, though again my expectations are probably
lower than they were some years ago.  It is mostly a dark-sounding album, and really represents much of
the material and ideas that went into Hawkwind in the latter end of the eighties, primarily on the
not-very-good Xenon Codex album.  So it is interesting to hear the difference between these ideas here, in a
fairly embryonic form, and what they turned into. This certainly isn't the strongest of Dave's solo works
but it's OK if you like that kind of thing!
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19th May 2006: Well, here's Graham Hawker with a dissenting opinion.  These are always very welcome,
by the way: this website isn't meant to be a mouthpiece for my views, but it *is* meant to provide hours of
free entertainment for Hawkwind fans.  So I'm always happy for others to have their say...(assuming the
basic civilities are observed, of course...)

Agents of Chaos Comment - otherwise known as Mr Picky Strikes Again.

I just have to be picky here. Heads is one of my all time favourite tracks and this version is far better than
that on the Xenon Codex. While the bass riff does have a typical Hawkwind type riff (D, D#, D C, D, D#,
D to be precise) the guitar riff is Dm G (with an F at the end before returning to the Dm). It's a great
combination. The guitar only follows the bass in the short middle section. The Palace Springs version is
certainly good as well and as Mr Picky says it's not an interlude in Damnation Alley but follows Time We
Left This World Today.