Xenon Codex Remastered

9th December 2004
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Xenon Codex was always, for my money, the worst sounding of any of Hawkwind’s albums.  
Produced by Guy Bidmead, it originally had a muffled, grungey tone quite at odds with the rushed quality of
the music.  The band were pressured to write and record this as quickly as possible – under the
circumstances, a more brittle overall tone would have somehow suited the material.  Instead we got a
bucket full of sludge.

About 5 years ago this was part of a series of late 80’s / early 90’s Hawkwind albums that got
remastered by Castle Music.  I know the horse has well and truly bolted, but I always fancied the idea of
getting the new version of Xenon Codex as it had the greatest potential for improvement.  Now my wish has
been granted…

The War I Survived
The opening bars of this song are almost enough to validate the whole idea of the remastering –
immediately apparent is how much extra treble there is, in a much clearer mix than before.  The keyboards
have far more clarity and Alan Davey’s harmonic bass notes can be heard at around the four minute
mark, and I’d never noticed them before.  One disadvantage though, is that the layers of cotton wool
have been unwrapped from the drums as well as the other instruments!

The song itself is a fairly bog standard trot through several Hawkwind motifs, featuring a 2-chord verse
with the chord progression being transposed upwards by a couple of steps for the chorus.

Wastelands Of Sleep
The crystal-clear mix transforms this track into something that Hawkwind went on to do in the 90’s –
it could fit onto Electric Tepee or even Alien 4.  It’s still a typical Brock track, though, reminiscent of
some of the better selections from his solo albums.  One thing that the old mix had was a certain washy,
psychedelic quality which is now absent – but the soundscape of synth fx and Huw’s beautifully
plaintive lead guitar compensates.

Neon Skyline
This I always thought the best track on the old Xenon Codex album – though the blaring quality of the
drums still sounds awful.  Immediately noticeable is the multitracking on Alan Davey’s vocals: an entire
additional spacey layer of sound is thereby revealed.  What I think the remaster shows about the drums is
the highly unsuitable mid-80’s tone they had been given – particularly the snare.  It and Danny
Thompson’s boom-titty style were at complete loggerheads with one another.

Lost Chronicles
Harvey Bainbridge’s keyboard opus gets even better with this crystalline remix.  Apparent now, but not
before, is the amount of space (room) in the music, which can really breathe as a result.  It sounds to me as
though Huw’s guitar solo has been mixed a little lower than it originally was – or maybe now that
there’s more to hear in the upper register, it has some previously absent competition.

Neon Skyline (reprise)
This kicks off with a Brock strum – you’d otherwise not know he was on this track.  The chording
on the main motif is fabulously well-balanced with the keyboard / synth parts, imparting the famous
Hawkwind wall of sound effect – but sans the soupiness that marred the original release of this entire
album.

Tides
HLL’s slice of acoustic guitar pastoralism always did have a sense of spaciousness about it and thus has
less to gain from the remastering.  But the bass pedals that underpin this track now jump out of the mix and
the harmonized lead guitar tracks can be heard where previously only a single guitar line was…

Heads
A sombre rendering still, but this track benefits hugely from the new mix.  Here, for once, a more downbeat
drum sound has been employed, giving almost a birch tone to the snare, and Danny sounds all the better for
it.  Washes of keyboard emerge where previously there was undifferentiated murk, and some gurgling
laboratory sounds just before the repeated “Necromancy lives forever / preserved within a jar� couplet
puts in a hitherto unnoticed appearance, and as these lyrics are repeated, the effects on Dave’s
multitracked vocals really glisten.  Also beautifully clear is the wash of reverb placed on Huw’s guitar
solo – which is the case throughout this album, really.

Mutation Zone
Being an offbeat piece constructed of a robotic rhythm, synthy weirdness and funny voices, this doesn’t
benefit so much from the clearer mix as those tracks that are more musical.  Huw’s rhythm guitar has a
much drier tone than his lead parts elsewhere and maybe it’s this which seems to open up so much
space in the mix.  Still, this number goes on for far too long.

E.M.C.
Opening with a typical foreboding Brock synthesizer pattern under an assortment of short-wave radio
samples, a morse code motif that I’ve not heard before ushers in bass / drums / guitar.  It’s really
not much of a song, though, lasting a bit over 3 or 4 minutes and sounding like the live midsection of a
different (more interesting) piece.  This is just aimless thrumming.

Sword Of The East
Another Alan Davey showcase, this has been a stalwart of Bedouin’s set and is currently doing the same
for Hawkwind’s.  It always was good, and now…the more expansive sound points up the warm, rich
vocal blend and the comparative emptiness of the verses.  It’s only in the chorus where extra keyboards
kick in that this really starts to motor.

I have to compare Hawkwind’s rendition of this song unfavourably to what Bedouin did with it: Glenn
Povey’s hyperactive guitar filled the void which this remix lays bare.  Though I am surprised to discover
that Glenn’s solo is actually based on what Huw does here in the coda!

Good Evening
I never liked this – it always came across to me as a comedy number, albeit one almost as funny as
contracting penile gangrene.  The basic riff is simply a monotonal vamp, with a cloud of samples overlaid
onto it.  Lyrically it’s self-parody all right, but there have always been plenty of critics ready to have a
dig at this band – there’s no need for Hawkwind to do the job for them.  Anyway, it “sounds betterâ
€� than the original mix but this serves only to outline the shortcomings in a clearer light…those funny
noises are…er… whackier than ever before!


Well anyway – is this remixed / remastered version of Xenon Codex worth getting?  I’d say definitely
yes – it’s not the strongest album Hawkwind have ever turned out, and (especially towards the end)
this is actually emphasized by the greater clarity on offer here.  But other parts of the album are greatly
enhanced, and in fact it’s been a revelation as to the quality that was latent within Xenon Codex (or bits
of it, anyway).  A very worthwhile exercise and a worthy addition to your hairy-arsed CD collection!