Review Summary: Better than the movie.Hawkwind – A trip through space, Part XX Doing what they do best, but not so well.
Hawkwind did not the enjoy the 90s, and for the most part continued to suffer from a lack of creativity in their work. But that didn't stop the band from releasing more material than they had done since the 70s. Hawkwind had already been into the studio once that year to record White Zone, but four months later the band released the album known as Alien 4.
In the course of the four months in between White Zone and Alien 4, Hawkwind managed to lose a member and gain two more members. The most important addition is the new vocalist, Ron Tree, who would later become the band's bassist when Davey eventually departed a year later. On this album Brock and Tree share vocal duties, and manage to work well together. With Tree's voice sounding sufficiently different to mark him from Hawkwind's veteran frontman.
On this album, Hawkwind is:
Ron Tree – vocals
Dave Brock – electric guitar, keyboards, vocals
Alan Davey – bass guitar, vocals
Richard Chadwick – drums
Jerry Richards – electric guitar
Alien 4 feels more at home with Hawkwind's older material than in previous incarnations in the early 90s. Whereas Business and White Zone were more space rock, Alien is something of a 'return to roots' album, if you class Hawkwind's roots as being in the 1980s. Most of the lyrics on Alien 4 are to do with important matters, such as aliens, alien abduction and alien invasions. So if you don't like Aliens, then this album is probably not for you.
Alien 4 is full of exciting Hawk rock, which is good enough to bring back memories of joy to fans who had been put off by their previous works. Songs like 'Reject your human touch' and 'Xenomorph' are good space rockers, which leave Brock and co. sounding fresher than they have done in years. It almost sounds as if 80s Hawkwind has come back to life and replaced all the band members from the 90s Hawkwind.
Ron Tree is not an excellent vocalist in terms of vocal range or power, but Hawkwind have never been about a powerful vocalist and so he manages to fit in quite well most of the time. On some songs however, he does feel a little bit out of his league when compared to the rest of the band, and the better songs are definitely the ones sung by Brock unfortunately.
The album twists its way in pure Hawkwind style from track to track, and there are plenty of good little gems to be found here and very little filler. Songs like 'Kapel' are more spacey, with singing synthetic sounds and moaning guitars. Brock shows that he has just as skilled behind the keys as he is with the guitar. Songs like 'Festival' and 'Sputnik Stan' are different, and sound very much like they belong in a different era with Chadwick and Davey pounding away in perfect harmony, whilst Brock takes the guitar for a sing-song.
Despite being one of the better released from the Hawkmachine during the turbulent 90s, like much of their work from that time period Alien 4 suffers from it's fair share of flaws, many of them have been seen on records before. Vocals being one such problem. Despite Ron Tree being a 'replacement' for Dave Brock, he actually adds nothing to the record, and the album might have been better off without him.
Also, Hawkwind have always had an issue of repetitiveness in their work, despite how varied many of their albums appear to be. Alien is no different and towards the end it appears that the band ran out of material to record. This didn't appear to bother Hawkwind, and the last three tracks are actually re-releases from previous work. However, the new technology from the 90s does them little credit and much of their work sounds aged.
Alien 4 could be regarded as a last hurrah from Hawkwind, well the 90s version at least. There is some good work to be found here, and the band show that they still have some prowess even some twenty-five years into their career. But the engine has aged rather badly and is now in need of replacement. But would Hawkwind realise this and replace it before disaster occurs?