Review Summary: Less songwriting and more style help Hawkwind pull off this great record from the early 80s. Hawkwind – A trip through Space, Part X A Return to Form.
The year was 1980 and Hawkwind had been around for 11 years. On average they were changing at least 2 members a year and this time around it was the turn of Calvert, King and Swindells. This meant that by the start of the 80s only Brock and Bainbridge remained. But this didn't stop the Hawk, who simply picked up some more crew members and continued their flight through space.
An interesting note is that this is the first album to have Langton on it since their debut. Having recovered from his five year acid binge in the early seventies, his second guitar on this record is most welcome.
On this album, Hawkwind is:
Dave Brock – vocals, electric guitar, keyboards
Huw Lloyd-Langton – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Harvey Bainbridge – bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
Tim Blake – keyboards, backing vocals
Ginger Baker – drums
Levitation is a different beast to the past few Hawkwind records. Without Calvert at the reins, the sound turns more into older Hawkwind than before. The synthesiers are back in full force and the music stays clear of 'Calvert-style' Hawkwind. However, there isn't much to the lyrics on this album, without Calvert or Turner writing the lyrics, no one else is really up to scratch and many of the themes are similar or on the dull side. The most lyrically advanced song 'Fifth Second of Forever', was actually based off a poem written by Calvert. So if you want brilliant spacey lyrics, then this album probably isn't for you.
If there was to be a major criticism of this album, it would be that there is little structure to it. The majority of the songs contain parts that are independent to each other. This doesn't make the songs any less good, in fact it allows the band members to shine through in their respective departments, but there isn't much tying them together. Luckily for Hawkwind, the rhythm section provided by Bainbridge and Baker is really good, especially with the addition of Brock to their ranks. The band's foundation is solid and it allows the synthesiser department to really go to town on improving the sound. This fits in more with their music style pre-Mountain Grill than anything else.
There are several sections of this album that really stand out, there is a particularly brilliant section waiting for you on the second half of the album. The song 'Who's going to Win the War"' is a truly wonderful song, and is something that everything Hawkwind fan should hear at least once. It flows brilliantly from one part to the next bringing all kinds of emotional sound along with it. It is a well balanced addition to Hawkwind's repertoire
Levitation is a weird record to listen to. Langton's guitar work is a step above Brock's, who has now happily retired and joined the rhythm section of the band. The song writing isn't brilliant, but the musicians are. Having being tamed and restrained for several years the synthesisers are finally released to wreck havoc once more. As such, the album can only be seen as having four proper songs; 'Levitation', 'Motorway City', 'Who's Gonna Win the War' and 'Dust of Time'. Everything in between can be seen as space rock filler of the finest order, whether it be the brilliant classic guitar from Langton in the last half minute of 'Fifth Second of Forever' or the excellent song that is 'World of Tiers'. The whole album is full of excellent space rock moments.
Levitation is a unorthodox but brilliant record. Bottom heavy rather than top, with the tracks on the second half outweighing the first by a tonne. Levitation is an album that takes its time to build on you. It might not have the lyrical brilliance of Warrior on the Edge of Time, it might not have the hard rock edge from 25 Years On and it may not be as extravagant as Doremi Fasol Latido, but Levitation is an album that anyone who likes Hawkwind should pick up and play once. They should also make sure to give the second half everything it deserves.