Review Summary: This album suffers from the condition known as premature climax, it just can't keep it up all the way to the end. Hawkwind – A trip through space, Part XXI Swinging and a missing
The musical style of the 90s was not something that Hawkwind was able to adapt too with the greatest of ease. Much of their work from this time period is rather lackluster, with the occasional good album scraping past the barrier. Distant Horizons just about makes this cut with its trance space rock style. But occasionally it can be found lacking in substance.
Distant Horizons is the last full length album released by the band during the 90s, and was the first album in several years not to contain rehashes of previous material. By this time Hawkwind had begun touring with a Rastafarian by the name of Captain Rizz, and some reggae influences can be heard on this album, particularly on the opening track. In addition, long time bassist Alan Davey left the band, with Ron Tree being his replacement. Hawkwind also added guitarist Jerry Richards.
As such, Hawkwind on this album are:
Dave Brock – electric guitar, keyboards, vocals
Jerry Richards – electric guitar
Ron Tree – vocals, bass guitar
Richard Chadwick – drums
The opening track, 'Distant Horizons', is one of Hawkwind's more trance style songs, sounding in a similar vein to work from 'White Zone' with a vocal overlay from Captain Rizz, chanting in the way that only a Rastafarian can. It's full of all the techno stuff you'd come to expect from Hawkwind at this point in their career, with Dave Brock's 20 plus years of space noise showing well crafted keyboards and good guitar work.
An interesting turn of events is the role change of Ron Tree from vocalist to bassist. His bass style is vastly different from that of Alan Davey. Davey had a thundering chugging bass style, whereas Ron's style is much lighter and higher pitched, preferring to play a lot higher on the bass guitar. As such, Distant Horizons sounds much lighter than many Hawkwind albums up to this point.
The band have managed to settle into a style on this album, managing to fuse together the space and the rock genre's better than they have done on previous records. Songs like 'Distant Horizons' are more trance in style than the rest, whereas songs such as 'Alchemy' are pure Hawkwind rockers. In fact 'Alchemy' is probably the best Hawkwind rock song to emerge from the band in over a decade, with Jerry and Dave's twisting guitar work and Chadwick's drums beating away merrily.
Starkly contrasting the faster works are tracks such as 'Clouded Vision', with its slow guitar work laced with keyboards from Brock. Ron Tree's voice sounds perfect here and is a vast improvement over his sound on Alien 4. His Calvert/Brock style voice melds perfectly with the sound of the track. It then throws itself forcefully into its second half, the sci-fi inspired track 'Reptoid Vision', which is another brilliant Hawkwind rocker.
Whilst beginning is a very good album, Hawkwind stutter a little bit towards the end, meaning that the album itself is rather top-heavy in material. The album peaks at the 'Vision' tracks, before losing momentum towards the finale. Distant Horizons is one of those albums which suffers from an early climax, and it then struggles to regain what it achieved early on. After 'Reptoid Vision' there aren't anymore standout tracks, and Hawkwind lapse back into their standard style of enjoyable but repetitive music. 'Population Overload' is composed of the same 'beat-beat-beat-clap' the whole way through its length and suffers from a terrible case of pointless song syndrome.
Distant Horizons is a difficult album to enjoy, the first half is very good and is probably comprised of some of Hawkwind best work for the greater part of a decade, but the second half doesn't live up to the expectations given from the first half. This almost leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, as you were actually expecting a good Hawkwind album from front to back for once. All the parts are here, Ron Tree is the best vocalist since Calvert, Ron Tree's bass work is enjoyable and fresh, and the addition of a new guitarist adds a new scope to the music. But the end product is not greater than the sum of its parts.