Review Summary: Calvert takes the Hawklords down a different more commercial route. Hawkwind – A trip through Space, Part VIII A Paradoxal Alteration.
In 1978 Hawkwind had a mini explosion that left them short several members, all that remained from the previous incarnation was Brock, Calvert and King. Deciding that this wasn't enough to finish them off they decided to carry on creating music. For some reason they decided to change their name to the Hawklords, some people believe that it was due to legal issues, others suggest that it was because this would be a different musical direction. The second group is much closer to the truth on 25 Years On, an album which is also known as Hawklords.
This album is different from anything else that Hawkwind have done to this point. Many bands begin to throw out 'experimental' records as their careers go on and their sound alters. Hawkwind are rather unique that their experimental record is probably their least experimental record. Rather than being full of space rock, rambling solos, extended jams and lyrics about sexually active androids, this record is much more tightly created and commercial. Lyrically the music is much more diverse, covering psychic powers, sky diving, crazy doctors and spying. On this album Hawkwind is:
Robert Calvert – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
Dave Brock – acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
Harvey Bainbridge – bass guitar, backing vocals, synthesizers
Steve Swindells – keyboards
Simon King – drums, Congas
Martin Griffin – drums
Simon House – violin
Henry Lowther – trumpet
Les McClure – whisper voice
Notable loses are Simon House, who's brilliant keyboarding skills really defined the previous albums by Hawkwind, he does provide some violins on several of the tracks, but the wind section that defined their earlier sound is completely gone from this record. Their new man behind the bass is no slouch however, and Bainbridge does very well with his pounding bass lines.
Hawkwind from this time period are soaked in the rock scene, 'PSI Power' is very much a rock song in nature, but Hawkwind are able to adapt themselves brilliantly to this new sound. The drumming is tight and the guitars and bass work brilliant in tandem. Calvert's vocals really suit this style of music, and there is even a small synthesised section as the song finishes, changing his vocal style into quite a psychedelic moment. This carries on to the next track, and is a small sample of the machine that Hawkwind once was.
No one can doubt Calvert's ability when it comes to lyrics and his vocal attitude. Whether it is about psychic powers or skydiving, he always manages to deliver. 'Free Fall' is a slower styled track and is the closest thing to old Hawkwind you will find on this band, with the synthesisers matching the sounds of falling from thirty thousand feet in the sky. Calvert applies his voice brilliantly to the spaced out vocals, something which really suits the band.
This type of synth rock survives across the album, with songs like '25 Years' showcasing the band's style on this album. The instruments have been toned down, there is a constant drum and bass line supporting the sounds, the guitars are doing what guitars should be doing and it's the front man who is taking the show. Compared to old Hawkwind this can be quite a harsh change if you were expecting brilliant instrumental extravagance and wondrous noises from the synthesisers. The closest you will get to the latter is probably at the beginning of 'Free Fall' or the Australian styled sounds on 'Flying Doctor'.
This Hawkwind is much more basic, but that doesn't make it bad and it shows that the band didn't need extravagant synthesisers to create brilliant music. But without them Hawkwind sound like a myriad of other rock bands from the 1970s, and they begin to suffer the age old problem of sounding similar as the album goes on. Despite all of Brock's brilliance on guitar, he was not designed to be a lead guitarist and worked much better as part of the backing group, leaving the synthesisers to take the top spot. But with them gone there is a wound that can't quite be healed.
'The Only Ones' is the stand out track of the album, the wind section towards the end (provided by Simon House) is brilliant and eerie. It showcases Hawkwind's talent as musicians and music writers, rather than filling the tracks with synthesisers and jamming them together in a maelstrom of brilliant but eccentric sound.
However, '(Only) The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid' is a stark change, the song sounds uninspired from start to finish, it is more minimalist than Hawkwind's previous music. With a quiet noise on the synthesisers and the calm guitar sounds from Brock being the only thing to add to the track. Calvert's normally brilliant vocals seem to be put to waste here, sounding miserable and bland. A very bad show by a band of this calibre.
This sombre tone is carried on to the end of the album, a sad ending to a record which had the potential to be brilliant. 25 Years On could have been something much more than it was, everything screams “So close.” Calvert meant well when trying to tone back the space rock, but instead went to far and made the band sound bland on later tracks. It could have been a brilliant time for them to show themselves as a brilliant rock band that was more etched in progressive rock than other bands at this time. But instead it leaves you wanting more at the very end. Like the few albums before it, this record is top heavy and the end doesn't far as well as the beginning.