Review Summary: The Hawklords make a sonic attack...
Over the extensive duration of their career, Hawkwind has undergone many changes in their lineup and in their direction. Every Hawkwind release is accompanied by a progression in sound. While 25 Years On certainly belongs among the discography of Robert Calvert’s clean, punk infused incarnation of Hawkwind, it is certainly no exception to this trend. In fact the album was even released under a different band name, “Hawklords”, for legal reasons. With this release, Hawkwind combines rigid punk with the clean rock sound of their previous Calvert-lead albums, and obvious musical influences from their earlier sound appear on side two. This combination proves to be successful for the most part, particularly the final three tracks, but there are some sizable flaws in the album. The largest mistake that was made in the creation of this album is the addition of “Flying Doctor”, which opens side two with an abrupt bang. This track is incompatible with the fluid, psychedelic sound of the three subsequent songs, and it detracts from the effervescence of “25 Years”. Fortunately, each of the songs that appear on 25 Years On are strong in their composition, and Robert Calvert’s charismatic vocal delivery gives the album a dynamic sound.
The album opens with “Psi Power”, perhaps the most accessible track on the album. Here Calvert explores the theme of telepathy, and the music here is highly comparable to Hawkwind’s 1977 release Quark Strangeness and Charm. Toward the end of the track, the music shifts into a swirl of whispering vocals, ending the song in usual, psychedelic Hawkwind style. “Free Fall” is a sinister sounding song about sky-diving, driven by a cloud of dark synth noises and a catchy guitar and bass riff. Unfortunately, this track is bookended by two lengthy interludes of overly modulated synthesiser, which immediately gives side one an unfortunately dated feel. This disrupts the flow of the otherwise coherent first side of the album. “Automotion” is standard Hawkwind fare, acting as an experimental bridge between the dark, riff driven “Free Fall”, and the pounding march of “25 Years”. “25 Years” is a raucous, punk infused track with a stiff, pounding beat that combines with the psychedelic chant of “twenty-five years” to create a deranged excitement. There is an excellent energy to this track, and Calvert’s manic chanting makes an instantly catchy hook.
Side two opens with “Flying Doctor”, a strange, riff driven track that sees Calvert make a semi-successful attempt at an Australian accent. Here Calvert makes a first person exploration of the theme of Australian drug-abuse with repetitive lyrics and biting satire. The guitar work here is excellent, soaking the track in overdriven riffs and a bluesy solo that adds a nice touch. Unfortunately this track blemishes the coherence of the album, lessening the savage punch from the previous track and thoughtlessly removing much of the subtlety from the three subsequent tracks. “The Only Ones” marks an immediate step into the right direction. This fast paced, acoustically driven piece is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “The Narrow Way Part III”, and it really pushes the rest of the album into what would have been an excellent direction for the whole album to follow. The overall sound of this track sounds like a polished incarnation of Hawkwind’s earlier records, with a layer of acoustic guitars caressed by a cloud of melotron. “The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid” is another fantastic track, with a dark production that is somewhat reminiscent of Hall of the Mountain Grill. Here Calvert covers the theme of espionage with a descriptive lyrical portrait that weaves masterfully into the cold washes of sound and the nasal timbre of the guitar chords. “The Age of the Micro Man” follows as an excellent album closer, concluding the album with the spacy sound of the previous two tracks. Calvert’s charismatic lyrical touch combines with Hawkwind’s signature space-rock sound to create a fitting culmination.
Overall, 25 Years On is a great album, and a worthy addition to Hawkwind’s extensive discography. There are some substantial flaws affecting the coherence of this album, but there is an undeniable aptitude in the musicianship that is displayed throughout each of the compositions, and it remains an great listen to those who appreciate the charm of Hawkwind’s punk-laced late seventies output.