|Palace Springs Atomhenge reissue
I thoroughly dislike repeating myself although (or because) I do it all the time. Which places me in a
conundrum as regards this, the Atomhenge reissue of Palace Springs, which includes the California
Brainstorm album as a bonus disk. I've reviewed both of them before when they were issued as single CDs
in their own right but won't even look at those reviews now...
Previous Atomhenge reissues have notably improved the sound quality over the original releases, and first
impression with Palace Springs is that they've done it again. There's a skirl of violin that jumps out of the
speakers as soon as opening track Back in the Box gets going. Likewise greater clarity can be detected on
the ensemble chorus vocals, so the improvement seems, as before, to be tonally focused on the upper
layers. Going into Treadmill, there's less to be gained since the exciting thing about this number is the bassy
throb of Alan Davey's Rickenbacker. But you can really pick out how closely the keyboards cleave to
Alan's groove. The instrumental midsection of the song is revealed to have an arrangement that's equally
weighted between guitar, bass and keyboards. Horrible word, but its more holistic than this material has
sounded before. What a joy it is to hear Treadmill in this level of aural detail!
Lives of Great Men is the name under which Assault & Battery masquerades on this album - for "publishing
reasons" no doubt... What they might be I neither know nor care, because hearing Hawkwind punch it out
like this is a joyous experience, which is over too quickly. And then comes the segue into Void of Golden
Light, which is actually a smoother / more accomplished transition than the original studio recording
managed. This is a stripped down arrangement when compared with Golden Void as heard on WOTEOT
but we can probably put that down to the absence of sax. For what it's worth I'd cite the studio version as
the apogee of Nik Turner's contributions to Hawkwind. Without him it's merely very, very good!
I always used to struggle with Time We Left on Doremi / Space Ritual as a leaden clubbing of the
eardrums, but this has to be the best version of it there is. The atonal bass solo is still there but the rest of
the song is pared down to essentials; not in terms of the arrangement so much as a reduction in the length
of the elapsed time it consumes. Here, the band condense it into a couple of minutes before segueing into
another definitive version, this time of Heads from the Xenon Codex album. The musical confluence of
bass and keyboards in this arrangement could scarcely be better, and continues as the band ease the song
back into Time We Left. But only briefly so...
Acid Test seems to have some crowd noise in it that I've never noticed before, presumably from
microphone bleed, since Palace Springs is one of those live albums that tries to sound like it was made in a
studio. (It is quite likely extensively overdubbed, though). Perhaps the sonic improvements aren't confined
to the more melodic layers of the mix, since Acid Test really thumps in a way that seems more pronounced
than hitherto. The hiatus as this track closes out and Damnation Alley revs up also comes across as more
sharply defined, which is a shame in a way, it was always one of my favorite Hawkwind segues... Though
this is not a particularly prized version of Damnation Alley, unequal to the original studio version IMHO. It's
slightly overpaced here, with a bit of white boy reggae thrown in for good (?) measure. I've heard worse
(Cake, anyone?) but the perfunctory, abbreviated run-through of the middle eight is a severe disappointment.
And then it ends, and we go into the first of two bonus tracks.
This is apparently the studio version of Damage of Life, previously unheard, but still arranged around a kind
of oompah beat that makes it sound as though this number was written to be played on the accordion.
Topped and tailed by a synth arpeggiator, the actual arrangement is quite fulsome compared to the live
versions we've heard before; layers of keyboard and plaintive figurines of violin are complemented by some
wistful lead guitar runs, which start to lose their effectiveness as they push to the forefront of the mix.
The second and last bonus track is billed as Treadmill / Time We Left, but there's virtually no trace of the
latter title. This is merely a embryonic version of Treadmill. It hasn't as much keyboard, and there's a
noticeably "demo-ish" vocal to accompany the raw, growling rhythm guitar. But the song structure is not
different, and all the melodies that the finished version was to incorporate are here. The bass and drums
seem already fully formed, and this is a good juncture at which to observe to what extent Palace Springs is
founded on the rock of the Chadwick / Davey rhythm section, who were surely at the top of their game
here. Neither puts a foot wrong. Anyway, as with the finished version, Treadmill transitions into a
measured but powerful, pulsing coda. Perhaps the last few bars of this echo the vibe of Time We Left, but
scarcely enough to justify it being titled thus.
Before venturing onto the second CD, the customary word about the packaging. This reissue comes as two
discs in a single clamshell case, with a 16 page colour booklet. Overprinted on a few video stills are some
fairly extensive sleeve notes written by Brian Tawn, instantly recognizable by his breathless, committed
prose style. For some reason the lyrics to the 1995 track "Festivals" (actually a poem penned by Kris Tait,
as she then was) are reproduced on the back page of the booklet. Going by memory the last line has been
slightly altered to clarify that the "close-minded fascists" are not the same people as "our own kith and kin".
But ugly is as ugly does, so you might as well label those responsible for the debacle at Telscombe Cliffs as
what they are / were: fascists. Not all nazis wear swastikas.
Anyway, California Brainstorm as the original issue of this live recording was called, comes from a
Hawkwind gig at the Omni in Oakland, CA, in December 1990. Which makes it broadly contemporary with
Palace Springs having been recorded in the Los Angeles a year earlier. According to the sleeve notes and
those who were there, the recording was done on an extempore basis and it was some way into the set
before recording levels etc. had been set correctly. So this document fades in with Voids End which is the
last couple of minutes of the Golden Void, sounding pretty similar to Void of Golden Light on Palace Springs
proper. The mix is meatier and slightly soupier, trading the upper register clarity of Palace Springs for
mid-range punch. This being endemic to the recording, it has less to gain from Atomhenge's remastering.
But the set list is almost entirely different (only Back in the Box is common to both discs) and the
cumulative effect is to portray a very broad sweep of Hawkwind live in the USA in 1989-90.
As I've noted before there is a ton of live Hawkwind from this period, and the California Brainstorm version
of Ejection, for example, is pretty similar to the rendition from Nottingham 1990, which was first let loose
as a TV performance. There's by and large more of Dave Brock's lead guitar on California Brainstorm than
you'll find on most stuff from this era. It's also something of a rarity that Brainstorm gets an outing, and
quite a punky thrash they give it, too. Here the ballast provided by the slightly murky, bassy mix works well
to offset the fraying-at-the-edges delivery. Mid song the band pulls out the same reggae riff they'd put into
Damnation Alley on the first CD, but transition it into the "He said / she said" interlude that comes with
Brainstorm. And like they did with Time We Left, they sensibly edit down this rendition to essentials,
probably cutting out a good 5 minutes of repetitive riffing.
Out of the Shadows is probably the song that, at that time, most closely resembled the early 70's versions of
Brainstorm in terms of dynamics, structure and purpose in the set. Someone once called these things
Hawkwind's "long, blurry instrumentals" (well, mostly so) This one is pretty close to the Nottingham 1990
version which is almost definitive. The same can be said for succeeding tracks Eons (Snake Dance), Night
of the Hawks and Back in the Box. However, California Brainstorm starts to wander away from the
template with quite distinctive versions of TV Suicide, Assassins of Allah, Reefer Madness and Images. The
rhythm guitar riffs ever more brutally through these numbers as the set progresses, though there are some
keyboard sounds evident fairly low in the mix which I hadn't noted before. (If only they still played
Hassan-i-Sahba like this!)
If there's a criticism to be made it's perhaps that the band weren't putting much swing into this particular
set. Yes, they do turn in a grinding display of power but here and there you'd like to hear the bass lines
sway a little off the beat and away from the lockstep with the guitar parts. A case in point is on the chorus
to Assassins of Allah, which had just that touch of funk the way Paul Rudolph played it on the Atomhenge
76 album. Adrian Shaw also inveighed it with a touch of musical wit and levity that is missing here.
However, without the availability of comparison with past glories, final track Images does just fine and
compositionally closes out the recording on a strong note. It was then brand new and stands up alongside
the older "classic" material very well.
Overall then a decent reissue with considerable sonic improvements to Palace Springs and just making
California Brainstorm available again after such a long time is worth some kudos. However there's not a
whole lot to get excited about in terms of bonus tracks, or the packaging, and so this one rates no higher