Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 32

Thanks to Graham P. for these reviews - except where noted otherwise, of course.
Approach with Caution: Anubian Lights Featuring Nik Turner – Your Captain is Dead
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A download-only album available from Amazon, its provenance is not immediately obvious until you peruse the tracklist, when you will see that it is a re-sequenced combination of every track on the Let Not The Flame Die Out and The Eternal Sky albums. Aside from the glimmer of interest occasioned by hearing something that might just be Nik playing, it is mainly rather dull. It majors in Eastern ambience but any claims that this stuff is danceable are frankly ludicrous. The Eternal Sky has not aged well and Let Not The Flame Die Out is more of the same but not as good.

From 2001, the Outflight EP, released on the charmingly named “Crippled Dick” label shows Grenas and Del Rio aiming more obviously at dance
music. Light relief after the po-faced weirdness of the first two albums, this would probably go down better at a club than at a HW gig. However, five tracks, including two versions of the title track and the witless “Smoothing out of the Curve” is all too much.
Somewhat more interesting, although with no HW connection at all, is the 2005 album Phantascope on which Del Rio and Grenas are joined by Adele Bertei on vocals and keyboards
and on which they really do dance music. The opening “Wild Winter” is irritating mechanoid disco but after this it settles down to something not wholly objectionable: electrodance songs with lively rhythms and hummable tunes.
Well Worth a Listen (**½) : Omenopus – Time Flies

After the rather interesting free EP, here is the full album. It is as well to approach this without any particular expectations and most of the material is a long, long way away from space rock.

“Truth and Lies” is a promising start – delicate and understated, with Bridget’s breathy vocals to the fore, a decent melody and chorus, and some nice violin interludes. “These Are My Thoughts” retains the low-
key approach, with the sound now located somewhere in the vicinity of Berlin circa 1980, but it lacks the opening track’s lightness of touch –it is something of a dirge- and is really too long at 9-minutes plus. After some misleading opening spacey noises, “Don’t Want To Be Here” offers Bridget’s gossamer vocals over the lightest piano and synth backdrop, and is elegant and melancholy.

“Night Twist” is one of the tracks previewed on the EP, although this is a longer version (extended to 7 minutes). It injects some creepy menace and a slightly broader sonic palette but without raising the tempo very much. It segues seamlessly into “Night Twist Omega”, which broods darkly in the background for another 7 minutes.

“Hen” is also familiar from the EP and sounds positively jaunty and upbeat in this company. “Le Chapeau Rouge” (The Red Hat) takes us back to the low-key, low-impact, ambience of the rest of the album: Bridget intones some words in French over a light bed of synths. Pleasant but unremarkable. “You Don’t Talk Like a Human” is just creepy: dark and angular, with electronic percussion, whining sax and brooding guitar lines, the lyrics directed at someone who also doesn’t dance like a Spanish man, doesn’t care about the clothes he wears (so far so normal for the average Brit I guess) and (if I heard right, taking things in a more sinister direction) “chooses to abuse”.   

In general, so far, the album has some interesting moments but not very much to stir the blood. Put it this way, it is not music for the car. The closing “Snapshot” is quite a different matter however. Pretty much a mini-album in its own right, it flits from style to style, section to section, over a massive 20 minutes. I’m not sure that it all hangs together, but there’s definitely enough going on to pique the interest of the casual listener and even some passages of aggressive space rock. This CD is available for £9.99 from the
Omenopus website (Monty Maggot, MMCD002)
Worth A Listen : Various Artists - Portobello Shuffle

A benefit album for ailing erstwhile manager of the Pink Fairies, Boss Goodman, this doubles as a tribute to the Fairies and the Deviants. This compilation is played by various fairies, punks and Hawks. With this kind of line-up, expectations of high art can safely be left at the door, but some rough and ready rock and roll is obviously expected, and duly delivered. The material is almost entirely remakes of Fairies, Deviants and Mick Farren tracks and you can read more about it at
this here Myspace page.

Three ex-Hawks appear. Paul Rudolph, best known
obviously as a member of the Fairies appears with the latter in 2009 on a ropey remake of “Do It (Again)”. Adrian Shaw joins Rod Goodway and John Perry on “Half Price Drinks” (originally by Mick Farren). As I’ve said before in other reviews, Rod Goodway’s vocals are an acquired taste but this is a good enough example of Shaw and Goodway’s melodic DIY rock and if I hadn’t read the songwriting credit I would assume it was their own composition. Finally, Nik Turner joins “Pink FA” on a rollicking 10-minute version of the Fairies’ “Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout”, laying down some honking and squawking sax over the general freaking out. This track alone is worth the price of admission.

A fair proportion of the remainder is also good stuff. Clark Hutchinson’s version of the Deviants’ “Rambling B(l)ack Transit Blues” motors along nicely. Captain Sensible is light years away from “Happy Talk” on his rousing version of the Fairies’ “Say You Love Me” and two other Damned luminaries, Scabies / James, take no prisoners on the Fairies’ “Teenage Rebel”. Darryl Read’s “Somewhere To Go” (originally by the Deviants) is another relentless groove. The Wilko Johnson Band is as instrumentally solid as you’d expect on the title track, their version of the Fairies’ “Portobello Shuffle”, although the vocals are a bit weak.

In the fair to middling category we have “Big Boss Man” by Felix Dennis, which is sprightly if utterly predictable piano-led rock’n’roll and I think must be a version of the 1960 song first recorded by Jimmy Read. Felix Dennis’ “A Saturday Gig” is (literally) pure beat poetry. John Sinclair’s bluesy take on Mick Farren’s “People Call You Crazy” would be improved by being sung rather than spoken but is built on a mean riff. This leaves the delightfully named Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine, who offer the ponderous 18 minutes plus “Metamorphosis Exploration on Deviation Street Jam”, based on the Deviants (9-minute) “Metamorphosis Exploration”. Anyway, this is more stoner rock than punk and while not exactly bad is certainly overlong. 

The rest is dross: Larry Wallis offers up a shouty “He’s the Boss”, probably composed on the spot by the sound of it, while Farren, Colquhoun & Taylor’s “Big Pink” is a rather horrible newly written (by Andy Colquhoun and Mick Farren) mixture of psychedelic guitar and spoken word. Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby tackle the Fairies’ “I Wish I Was A Girl” and reduce an originally rocking song to a whiney psychedelic ballad.
One Of The Best (if not to everyone’s tastes) : Meads of Asphodel – The Murder of Jesus the Jew

I found this in HMV, appropriately enough on Christmas Eve, and it turns out to be a return to form for the Meads after a couple of stop-gap releases. Although not everything on this CD is top-notch, the Meads show an inventive, eclectic and generally fearless approach to composition and performance, freely mixing death metal with a veritable pot-pourri of other styles (often in the same song). The basic three-piece band is augmented by a host of additional musicians and vocalists. The Hawkwind connection is Alan Davey who, despite playing on all the tracks, is still listed as a guest musician.
Admittedly the Meads are something of an acquired taste. Firstly, every style of music has its conventions, which you have to get past before appreciating the artistry. In this case, you need to accept that Metatron’s guttural roar is part of the sound palette, as indeed is just about everything else. This is death metal, but not as we know it (Jim). Secondly, given the nature of the subject matter, it will offend some and the Meads do occasionally go out of their way to be offensive (the CD should carry a parental advisory sticker!).

The album kicks off with “Boiled In Hell Broth And Grave Dust (Intro)”: after a brief scene-setting narration accompanied by piano, the light-hearted main melody comes in on fairground organ, with a brief interlude of creepy sound before it is reprised.

A roar from Metatron signals the thunderous opening of the 7½ minute opus “My Psychotic Sand Deity” which, around two-minutes in, gives way to some tasteful guitar and, er, trumpets. As the guitarist moves into David Gilmour territory, a classical style female vocal carries us forward into what is essentially now a hymn. The tempo picks up again after 5 minutes as Metratron returns on crazed vocals, although the guitarist keeps it tuneful. Breathtaking stuff or possibly plain silly. I think it’s great.

“Apocalypse of Lazarus” starts off with a spoken-word vision of the apocalypse, compared to which “Sonic Attack” is really rather tame (sample lyric: “you will become the genital warts on the arse of Hades”) and then switches seamlessly between death metal and AOR passages.

“Addicted to God” is another epic (8 ½ minutes). Just when you think that this is going to be a straightforward song (death metal with melodic lead guitar), they throttle right back and we get a brief interlude of choral singing (think Bohemian Rhapsody albeit without the vocal panache of Queen, and with lyrics that manage to mention circumcision). The song concludes with another aggressive death metal section and a closing passage with tasteful guitar.

“Stiller of Tempests” is anarchic folk rock, propelled by strummed acoustic guitar and with some appropriately wayward singing. “Man From Kerioth” mixes yobbish punk rock (chants of “I am Judas”), death metal, spoken word and a ghostly choir. “Dark Gethsemane ” is slightly off-kilter pastoral prog, a bit like early Pink Floyd, while “Jew Killer” is a cut-and-paste Black Sabbath sampler, but with Metatron’s rasp replacing Ozzy’s whine.

The 9-minute “Genesis of Death” starts out as a straightforward rock song before a spoken word section where, as our hero moans that “I am not the Messiah”, I couldn’t quite avoid images from Life of Brian. A sprightly folk rock interlude (all acoustic guitars and percussion) gives way to an epic closing section featuring some rather excellent classic rock guitar.

“From Eagle to Cross” is up-tempo, riff-based heavy rock with death metal vocals but also features a jaunty string section. “Apostle of the Uncircumcised” is sprightly metal with a few slower passages over which Metatron offers some more unpleasant imagery.

The album closes with the snappily titled but nevertheless very listenable “A Canticle For The Lost Amputees Of Aelia Capitolina Who Have Been Trampled Under The Iron Shod Hooves Of Salivating Hell Rams And Impaled On The Shimmering Tusks Of Salvation Within The Abandoned Tabernacle Of A Bronze Age Myth”. Again this successfully mixes riff-based rock with pastoral progressive passages, with roared vocals from Metatron and miscellaneous chants and wails.

Don’t play this album in earshot of your parents or children but it is worth investigating!
Worth A Listen (but will definitely not suit all tastes): Karda Estra – Weird Tales

The only reason I am reviewing this contemporary classical CD – which at no time ventures anywhere near rock or pop music -  is that Bridget Wishart plays on it (she and Don Falcone contribute wind synthesiser and keyboards respectively on “The Eye of Silence “). Looking at the artwork both on this CD and on the band web page suggests a fascination with dark themes - and the quoted reviews mainly emphasise this aspect: “A sonic experiment of large proportions, dark moods and multiple personalities” and “deep, atmospheric tracks” although also pointing to “music of beauty and elegance”. If you want
soundtrack music for anything to do with ghosts, witches, wild landcapes, unsolved murders or missing cutlery (well some of it is only very, very, slightly dark), Karda Estra could undoubtedly do the job for you. Nevertheless, while the music is sometimes unsettling, it never strays from the formal and the polite. It is elegant (and probably best appreciated on headphones) but rather rarely stirs the blood. Tracks such as “The White Rose” and “The Atom Age Sense of Impermanence” are however pleasingly tranquil and pick of the bunch is the closing “There Is No Finished World”, both the longest track (over 8 minutes) and offering the most engaging diversity of melody and sounds.
Well Worth a Listen (**½) : Alan Davey - Al Chemical’s Lysergic Orchestra (reissue with bonus tracks)

This has been dusted down, spruced up (my impression is that the sound is fuller and smoother but there again I’ve been playing it on iTunes, not on top end equipment) and expanded with an additional 5 tracks. The original 8 tracks come first, some of them slightly lengthened but only one significantly altered, and then the new stuff.

Starting with the original CD, “Coming Up (Eyes Open)” has gained an extra 14 seconds but remains slightly unsettling and not very exciting.  The more
melodic “Loopy Loop” gains 18 seconds and is still easy on the ears. The eerie “Thee Unseen” is basically unchanged and, at 7 minutes in length, remains about 5 minutes too long. “Hubbub” is still pointless (1-minute plus of looped effects). The energetic “Blue-cedelic” marks a step change in quality, and has gained both 13 seconds in length and a rather good lead vocal track (it was previously instrumental). The atmosphere remains reminiscent of Black-Sword era Hawkwind. “Hipnotic” is an instrumental with lots of spacey effects and, as noted, an unexpected flute interlude, but isn’t very exciting.

“Synthia” is still the longest track on the album (at 8 minutes), a dreamy instrumental that would easily work for Hawkwind (and indeed part of “Synthia” in reminiscent of the introductory sequence of “Damage of Life” on the “Yule Ritual album). The chugging bass and guitar of “Free to Live at Last” also recalls Hawkwind but the initial excitement fades once it becomes clear that the song isn’t going anywhere. Alan’s vocal is so-so. This track has gained 11 seconds.

There are 5 “new” tracks added to the end, the first of which is very familiar, being “Out Here We Are”. To me it sounds pretty much indistinguishable from the Hawkwind version (down to the subtle brass colourings), which I guess is the whole point. Three of the remaining tracks also sound like modern-day compositions, while the closing “Where’s the Way Out?” I would guess is earlier work. In general, my impression is that Alan’s recent work has grown in sophistication and has a more organic feel, while some of the older tracks sound mechanical and repetitive.

“Hubbub 2” is a short and delicate instrumental with piano and acoustic guitars, a million times better than “Hubbub”. “Moment of Madness” is pure new age relaxation music (it starts with the sound of waves and acoustic bass, with light percussion and synth joining in) and it includes several short Calvert poems recited from beyond the grave by the man himself (I recognised “Storm” and Fountains in the Park”, both from Centigrade232). Another case of: anything Dave Brock can do, I can do better?

“Lysergic Bird” is a relaxed instrumental track, underpinned by some solid bass work while the top line is patented dreamy synth with occasional saxophone warblings. It would have made a stronger closer than “Where’s the Way Out?”, although the latter is quite similar in terms of arrangement: again, synth and (synthetic?) brass provide the melody and colour but there is also a superfluous vocal track (Alan singing the title, repeated ad nauseum).

Although it still falls well short of Alan’s last two solo CDs in terms of quality, the new version of Lysergic Orchestra is a distinct improvement on the original and is worth checking out.
Well Worth a Listen (**½) : Krankschaft – Live at the Sonic Rock Solstice

Another nicely produced CD from Steve and Fred, now with Mick Stupp installed as full-time third member of the group. This is a solid and enjoyable album, although if you’ve heard the studio album, and especially if you saw them supporting Hawkwind, there are few surprises. The set is obviously built around latter-day Calvert solo material, pick of the bunch being the rocked up version of “Picket Line”. Several others, notably “Test Tube Conceived”, still stand up although “Acid Rain” is a low point.

We also get respectable versions of two ICU tracks: the anarchic space punk of “Cybernetic Love” (spot
Nik’s “Utopia” lyrics) and the yobbish Thoms/Turner-penned “Raj Neesh”. There is also a competent take on the mothership’s “Spirit of the Age” and two tracks by Nebula (to recap Steve’s explanation, since this 1970s band seems to have left no trace in cyberspace, they formed out of the ashes of a band called Chuff when the majority of the latter elected to sell their souls to the man and become, er, Kenny). “Come Fly With Us” and “Cosmic Fantasy” are both good songs in the space rock idiom and a welcome injection of energy alongside the fairly one-paced Calvert material. The CD also features appearances by the band’s podcast “robot” voice, a neat conceit perhaps but not one which bears repeated listening.

Anyway, this is a really nice artefact (complete with a postcard and “photocards” of the crew), released on the band’s own Stereo Records label in a limited run of 200 and available (presumably while stocks last) from their website. Finally, lest you think that Krankschaft are nothing but a superior covers band, check out the wealth of new material available currently (as of January 2011) for download on their website.
Well Worth a Listen (**½) : Various Artists – Allies and Clansmen

While Flicknife threaten to revive the series from which this collection cheekily takes the inspiration for its name, the Monty Maggot label, home of Omenopus, offers this collection of friends and relations on varied material which only very rarely intersects with space rock. Bridget Wishart appears several times, while Alan Davey’s Toxic Conspirators, Harvey Bainbridge, Jerry Richards’
Earth Lab and Dead Fred’s Krankschaft are also on-board, as are the likes of Dr Hasbeen, Omnia Opera and Flutatious, and a good number of acts I had never heard of but which probably bear further investigation.

The set kicks off somewhat inauspiciously with the anodyne Omenopus tune “Call Your Name” - Bridget is in good voice but not much else is happening. This is followed by the plaintive piano-led ballad “Please Take Me Away From Here” by 1912, conjuring up visions of Eric Carmen or even Barry Manilow, but actually rather good. Omnia Opera are more of a known quantity, offering the propulsive and muscular “Second Skin”, a track that, instrumentally at least (and certainly if you turned down the synths and lost the poppy lead vocals and the spoken word section) is firmly in the space rock idiom and is even reminiscent of the sound of the revered Captain Lockheed album.

All momentum is promptly dissipated by the extremely limp “Secret” by David Speight and Friends (including Bridget Wishart). Bridget then redeems herself on the gentle and dreamy “Fingers Ten” by Chumley Warner Bros. This is followed by the bouncy and irreverent “Robot” by Osiris the Rebirth. Dave Brock should probably sue, since this is a perfect facsimile of his vocal style and instrumental palette circa “On the Case” from Earthed to the Ground. It’s all there: 80s synths, half spoken vocals, dodgy rhymes and lyrical themes touching on hardware and personal relationships.

The next track is completely inconsequential - plenty of sound effects over lightweight reggae-tinged froth. Pleasant but unapologetically lightweight, this turns out unexpectedly (to me anyway) to be an Alan Davey project, namely “Dukes Jurney” by the Toxic Conspirators. I’m all for eclecticism but be warned this is more Haircut 100 than Meads of Asphodel. “On the Radio” by Sarah Panton is sub-Kate Bush pop, overly sweet but over very quickly.

Spirits Burning raise the tempo with the lively power pop of “Stand and Deliver”, with pleasingly yobbish vocals introducing a cast of shady characters, tongue firmly in cheek. Bridget is on this one, presumably on the backing vocals. Earth Lab’s “Money Monkey” is lightweight cocktail jazz, with slinky sax, brushed percussion and a less-is-more vibe – and is apparently from the forthcoming Oscillating Bodies album. Krankschaft offer the authentic space rock groove of “Cosmic Fantasy” (the Nebula track, otherwise available in live form on their Live at the Sonic Rock Solstice album). The Flutatious track, “The Cossack Groove” is much as you might expect, bouncy and festival friendly instrumental folk rock.   

“Gateway (The Second Movement)” by The Higher Craft is frankly a bit of a dirge. A quick search on the web reveals that they have a CD out called “Magic Box” and the main members were previously in a band called Peyote Mothership. However, neo-classical leanings of Stephen Palmer’s instrumental “Landscape” are rather more engaging. Again, a quick browse on the web comes up with some extra information, namely that “inspiration is taken from the Welsh landscape”. Isis offers the stately and melancholy “The Gift” (from a solo EP; her day job is with metal band Anubis and on this evidence I prefer the solo material).

The following “Rev Me Up Under New York” is anonymous but not unpleasant instrumental dance music and turns out to be by our very own Harvey Bainbridge, who is apparently keeping spacey weirdness to an absolute minimum on this one. The penultimate track is Dr Hasbeen’s “Black Widow”, the sound of someone trying a bit too hard to imitate the Hawkwind sound: cue treated vocals, far out lyrics, churning rhythm guitar, Huw-like lead runs and lashings of whooshing noises. Proceedings are brought to a close by a short space poem over vaguely unsettling sound effects, namely “Instincts” by L.M. Potts.

Although not every track is first rate, and I will admit that it took 3 or 4 listens to really get into it, this is an excellent compilation and it is available – absolutely free I might add – from the
Omenopus website.
Worth a Listen : Bubbledubble – Earthwise 2006 - On a hilltop in Dorset (with Nik Turner) /Twilight Phenomena

Bubbledubble features Kev Ellis, once of Dr Brown (with whom HLL guested), more recently the other half of Trev & Kev with the late Mr Thoms. They do spacey, blissed-out, reggae and dub-based festival music. They recently issued a studio album (Twilight Phenomena) which is pretty good chillout music and they have a couple of live recordings available, On a hilltop in Dorset and Cosmic Puffin. The studio album has a smoother sound and is a bit more placid, but otherwise the general feel of the music doesn’t change much across the three albums (indeed many of the same tracks are repeated). Nik’s sax adds some extra
instrumental colour to the Dorset set on “Moon Bass Dub” and “Dub Slider”. The Hawkwind connection on Twilight Phenomena arises from the fact that it was recorded at Foel Studios and Dave Anderson plays bass on the track “Ursa Minor”. At the end of the Dorset set, Mr Ellis can be heard ragging a certain Judge Trev about his lack of guitar playing prowess, which is all the excuse I need to sneak in a review of…
Barely Worth a Listen () : Trev & Kev- Cosmic Puffin
It is appropriate to begin this with a few words on the late Mr Thoms. The Judge had a long musical pedigree - including the original Iron Maiden (nothing to do with Steve Harris, Bruce Dickenson et al), Steve Took’s Horns (the modest fruits of which collaboration are reviewed elsewhere on these pages) and the Atom God(s). He was a serial collaborator with ex-Hawks, especially Nik Turner and Ron Tree. A mainstay of Inner City Unit Mk I alongside Nik Turner, he inherited the name after Nik disbanded ICU Mk II and delivered the patchy “Now You Know The Score” album.  He also participated in various subsequent partial ICU reunions. It has to be said he was responsible for some truly awful releases with Ron (Bajina) and Nik (Hawkfairies), as well as some
of his own - the second Atom God(s) record comes to mind - but he also plays on some very good albums, notably the first three ICU albums and MOAB’s “Insect Brain”. He also provided an outlet for a variety of other people’s music through his RFM website and label and, despite a propensity for tuneless metal guitar solos, he was a thoughtful songwriter as shown by his solo CD God and Man. In recent years he had taken to playing the festivals as an acoustic duo, with Jackie Windmill (ex-Nik Turner’s Space Ritual) and latterly with Kev Ellis. Trev never knowingly undersold his work, describing God and Man as “the all new material - inspirational - sensational - astounding new release from Judge Trev. An album of cosmic ballads exploring the nature of Man and God”, although I think with tongue firmly in cheek. I saw him perform only a couple of times, most recently in November 2009 with the reformed ICU, and met him briefly at the 2002 Hawkfest: I am the proud owner of a rather spidery autograph on one of his CDs. When I asked him by e-mail (in 2006) about the then missing-in-action MOAB CD, in his reply he moaned a bit about the people he held responsible for burying the release, offered names and addresses, and ended with a cheery “...if you happen to be a serial killer Graham, or if you know of one, go ahead”! He’ll be missed.  

Anyway, Cosmic Puffin was apparently the Judge’s last recording and is, in all honesty, not his best. There’s plenty of banter between the two principals and in between taking the piss out of each other they play a selection of Trev’s solo songs, ICU material and cover versions. The set kicks off with “Beside the Seaside”, a fairly anonymous track from God & Man. From the same source, the quite good “The Dark Side of Time” appears later on, a song which had a previous life as “Hitler’s Favourite Tune” on Now You Know The Score and the tune of which apparently had a previous life as… well, it’s in the title. The set ends with “The Lost Battle Between Democracy and Capitalism”, which is better than the title might suggest but has some really irritating beeping sounds going on in the background. Four ICU tracks are roughly worked over: “Watching the Grass Grow”, “Raj Neesh”, “Skinheads in Leningrad” and “Little Black Egg” (the latter a song which ICU covered). The second half of the set comprises mainly cover versions, kicking off with a reasonable take on “Ohio”, followed by “Ghost Riders in the Sky¸ “Streets of Laredo” (which gains some lyrics about bankers), “Folsom Prison Blues” (which has become “Foulson Prison Blues”), a horrible mangling of “No Regrets” and a half-hearted “High School Hop”. The best bit of the album is probably the ragged and rather cheeky Madonna/Hawkwind medley “Beautiful Stranger”/“Master of the Universe”. Certainly it raises a smile more easily than the between-track dialogue.
Worth a Listen : The Jalapeños – RAW

Apparently briefly issued some years ago as a CDR, this EP is now available as a digital download from the usual likes of iTunes and Amazon (it is 50p cheaper on the latter). It features five tracks of pleasingly raucous rock’n’roll, all self-penned but drawing on well-worn traditional styles, from the Duane Eddy/Link Wray-ish “Toadfish” to the boogie-by-numbers of “I Don't Like It Like That”. The interest for Hawkfans is in Nik Turner’s sax contributions to ponderous sleaze rock of “Dragula”. Totalling a mere 14 minutes, this collection doesn’t hang around and is worth a listen.
Worth A Listen : Spirits Burning -Behold the Action Man

Like much of Spirits Burning’s output, this is a grower. As usual, various ex-Hawks, friends and friends of friends are to be found among the collective’s extended line-up: Bridget Wishart, Roger Neville-Neil, Jaime Cortinas (Starfighters), Alan Davey, Kev Ellis, Paul Hayles. However (and also as usual), the ex-Hawks aren’t there to do anything that sounds like Hawkwind. Alan Davey doesn’t do his Mini-Me Lemmy impersonation, Roger Neville-Neil’s lyrics aren’t all that exciting and Bridget Wishart’s almost solo track, “Outcast” is really not one of her best.

The opening quartet of tracks is as good as anything on
any of the SB albums that I’ve heard, music that is at once dark and claustrophobic, channelling 1950s cold war paranoia, late 60s psychedelia and the curdling of the hippie dream, and late 70s punk nihilism. It is as direct and confrontational as anything they have done. “Rendezvous at Lava Lounge” channels early Pink Floyd as it builds up the atmosphere - and mid-period Floyd in the mainly wordless females vocals. “Stand and Deliver” is already familiar from the Allies and Clansmen compilation, Kev Ellis’ yobbish lead vocals overlaid on a hard rocking backing track, more Pink Fairies than Pink Floyd. It would be nice to hear this one with the guitars higher up in the mix. “The Real Time” is dark, angst-ridden psychedelia with the best chorus on the album; the vocals have a slightly hysterical and melodramatic feel reminiscent of Michael Moorcock’s Deep Fix. “Internal Detective” is an edgy instrumental, discordant guitars over smooth strings.

Much of the following material lacks the impact of this opening salvo; it is armchair theatre more than the real thing, space rock as an intellectual exercise. Sometimes mature and reflective, sometimes too detached and clever for its own good, with few emotional highs and few bathetic lows. Sometimes the collective is just less than the sum of its parts.

“Strafed by a UFO” ups the aggression and has a reasonable chorus but is something of a dirge. It is followed by one of my least favourite tracks, “Outcast”, which features irritatingly repetitive percussion over which Bridget declaims a grimly dystopian lyric in nursery rhyme fashion. The hopelessly fey and whimsical Gong-ish tomfoolery of “Obelisk of Fondue” is even less enticing – the lyrics are courtesy of RN-N so don’t blame Daevid Allen. 

The remaining tracks divide into songs and instrumentals. Pick of the latter is the rather lovely closing track “Underworld Messiah”. “Crank Up the Vibes”, “Hemlock on the Rocks” and “Pieces Des Innocents Noir” are also pleasant enough, although the faux-Chinese feel of “Hypnospray” doesn’t really work.

Best of the other songs is probably “Every Space Opera”: infectiously jaunty with a rather good tune, it also ends in a pleasingly cacophonous duel of brass and guitar. “The Train” is propulsive and hooky, and only slightly spoiled by a limp chorus. “Astral Flight Gassed”, offers breathy female vocals over a rocking backing track, with a spoken word piece tagged onto the end. “This Mark You Make” is heavy and claustrophobic.

With 16 tracks totalling 70 minutes, this CD is not easy to digest in one sitting. However, programming out the least interesting tracks certainly improves it and almost all of it bears repeated listening.