Palace Springs CD review

Thanks to Manfred Scholido and Bernhard Pospiech for inspiration and research!
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Normally I don't review the core Hawkwind albums, as I'm too familiar with them to think I can do the job
objectively.  But writing a review of California Brainstorm recently set me off on the idea of wanting to
review all the 1990-ish live albums. Palace Springs is one of these (mostly), having been recorded live at the
Palace (hence the name) in Los Angeles, California.on 10th October 1989.

The personnel for that gig consisted of Dave Brock, Richard Chadwick, Alan Davey and Harvey
Bainbridge.  But, Bridget Wishart and Simon House are unmistakably present on the album too: the answer
to this conundrum is that Back In The Box and Treadmill aren't from the LA gig: they're studio recordings
done in 1989.  And when you compare the sound quality of the tracks that really are live with these two
numbers, it becomes apparent that the likelihood of Palace Springs not having been retouched in the studio
is of the order of P<0.00001 :-)

That is not to say that this is a poor effort.  Far from it: it is in some ways the most perfect representation
of Hawkwind and would make an excellent CD to lend to a neophyte as an introduction to the band.  It has
the strength of combining some classic 70's material with more contemporary Hawkwind...and the great
disadvantage of opening with
Back in the Box.  Which is one of those numbers that would fill a returning
hawkfan with horror, should it be compared to the best of the band's output. Considered as part of their
overall body of work, it's merely middling-to-lame, and this I would lay at Bridget's door for the most part.  
The song consists of an uninspired chord progression moved up and down the neck of the guitar, with
plenty of ambient noise for filler along the way.  None of that is Bridget's fault but it's a toss-up as to
whether the singing or the lyrics are more abysmal.  "Shut in a box...too many locks...I see you..."   Oh
Lord.  The coda is a little better with a Brock vocal (and lyrics, presumably) over one of his faux-Arabic
chord patterns, but that's the bit that's middling.

Treadmill could not be more different, being one of the three best Hawkwind tracks of the 1980's.  Starting
out with a bass / drums / synth rhythm, some throaty lead guitar opens the song up, and then Alan Davey
shapes a brilliant melodic bassline with that Rickenbacker growl still to the fore - and Simon House reminds
us that he's still the best musician Hawkwind have ever had, with some fabulous violin texture.  The opening
line of the vocals is "I'm so distant and so cold" but I always think it sounds like "I'm so pissed and I'm so
cold", as if the Captain had been out at the boozer in the middle of winter and missed the last bus home.  (It
happens to the best of us...)  The lyrics are actually a blend of the dystopian and the humanistic, sort of a
lament on the subject of modern life, I suspect.  But after about two and a half minutes, an instrumental
middle section with an excellent violin solo comes along, slowly gathering pace as it does so.  I have a slight
gripe with one aspect of the arrangement here, and that is the way that Alan Davey plays in double time,
playing each note of the riff twice where it would have sounded better with one sustained note in my
humble opinion - but he's the bass player, not me.  A final verse is immediately followed (at just past the 5
minute mark) by one of the best slow codas Hawkwind have ever come up with, this time with Harvey
Bainbridge taking the lead with some beautiful melodic synth parts - the guitar eases its' way into the picture
with some mellow riffing, and then the bass and drums pick up to really power the last few bars before the
fade-out.  Awesome!

Lives Of Great Men is a cunningly disguised Assault and Battery, with opening mellotron-ish synth and
*that* bass riff, but it's not just a 70's retread as the pace is wound up an extra notch from the original, and
features a harder, more guitar-orientated arrangement.  The downside of the faster pace is that it's over
quickly, lasting all of maybe three and a half minutes - but it does at least segue into
Void Of Golden Light,
as it has to if there's any justice in the world.  Dave sings on both numbers and was in really excellent voice
when this was recorded.  The arrangement on V.o.G.L.is closer to the classic Golden Void, but of course
there's no sax or violin, so the guitar and synth make up for it.  Dave even plays snatches of lead here and
there, which are OK but not out of this world...melodic fills rather than solos.  There's really only one verse
and chorus, which are followed by an extended instrumental section that starts off in this almost ambient
mode but develops into something that *is* more of a guitar solo, with the other instruments ramping up
behind it.  This develops further with some lead synth building to a crescendo at around five minutes into
the track, before the arrangement subsides like the tide going out, and then fades away altogether.

Time We Left was always one of the more leaden numbers in Hawkwind's early 70's repertoire, but here
they walk a fine line, managing to pay their respects to the original, but adding some more spacious
sounding keyboard, and throwing in the 1989 analogue of Lemmy's atonal bass solo immediately after the
first verse / chorus.  The whole thing last less than three minutes before moving straight into '
Heads', a
contemporary track of which this is the definitive version, for my money.  The organ chords are nicely
subdued and Dave sings Roger Neville-Neil's nightmarish lyrics as clear as a bell (favourite couplet: "In glass
booths they're wired / needles are in their flesh").  There is layer upon layer of synth here, a touch of which
sounds like the old Propaganda classic "Dream Within A Dream" (does anyone else remember Paul Morley's
ZTT label?).  After this the Time We Left riff returns, to close this out with some excellently placed
drumbeats too.

The next number is
Acid Test, one of those brief synthy / sound effects affairs which I have never really
seen the point of.  (Sentence ending with preposition, most unfortunate, but unavoidable in this case...)  
Actually this is not so brief as all that, since Harvey launches into one of his trademark dark synths + treated
half-spoken vocals pieces.  He does this sort of thing very well, and Acid Test canters along nicely with
syncopated synthesizer rhythms underpinning his rather mad wails and shifting aural curtains of sampled
female choir - sounding the way that the northern lights look, I suppose.  This segues excellently into the
next song, with Harvey's soundscape just about to drift out altogether, only to revive with the synths
picking up the pace and a bass drum sliding in from somewhere....then the guitar starts riffing before the
entire band launches into
Damnation Alley, with an arrangement that (like some others here) nods in the
direction of the original but has been optimised for the slimmer contemporary line-up.  The greater
prominence afforded to the guitar as a consequence is a joy to my ears, and Alan Davey turns in one of his
best vocals here to boot, not straining to reach the melody at all, as he sometimes has.  But in case you
thought this was going to be an unalloyed classic slice of live Hawkwind, they go and interpose a section of
fairly useless reggae in the middle of this song, where the original version had probably the best middle
section of *any* Hawkwind song.  Simon House is of course not here to play this masterpiece, but they do
run through it once the reggae is disposed of, and no, it isn't as good as on Quark, being too beefed up to
represent the rare beauty of the original melody - and it's far too short anyway.  A final verse and chorus
ensues and one of those "everybody go up to the octave" endings brings the CD to a close.

So that's Palace Springs, a polished-up live album with perhaps the best sound quality of any live
Hawkwind, where everybody was playing to the very best of their ability, the material is terrific and the
arrangements are largely excellent.  You have to go a long way to find a better live Hawkwind CD than this
one, which is not quite up there with Space Ritual (what is?!) but contends with Live Chronicles, the
Business Trip and the last two live albums (Canterbury 2001 and Walthamstow 2002) as being among the
very best representations of what this band do.