Review Summary: “We are the children of the sun, and this is our inheritance...”
I have decided to review one of the classic albums in my vinyl collection, and so after little thought, I decided to review Hawkwind’s space-rock masterpiece “X In Search of Space”, a record which I consider to be the definitive space-rock album. This record, repetitive as it is, sports some of the genre’s finest jams, and the general atmospheres that are created throughout the duration of this psychedelic journey, prove the release to be an essential psychedelic album.
Of all the psychedelic rock bands of the 70s, Hawkwind is perhaps the one that is the most commonly associated with the label of “space-rock”. The band’s unique blend of riff-driven hard-rock and acoustic acid-folk has acted as a bridge between hippie and punk culture, influencing a large string of psychedelic rock musicians since the release of their self-titled debut. Of all Hawkwind’s releases, “X In Search of Space” exploits this aspect of their sound most evidently, representing both of the major sectors of their fan base with an equal amount of power and enthusiasm. While the instrumental work on this album is impressive, the use of synthesisers takes the spotlight, embellishing this record with a tremendous cosmic power.
The album begins with the 15 minute jam, “You Shouldn’t Do That”. This repetitive psychedelic jam opens the album with a mysterious layer of synthesiser, beckoning the listener into further attention. The track then moves into a heavy riff, driven by guitar and bass, soaring on the wings of a warm analogue synthesiser. Nik Turner’s saxophone is cunningly woven into the barrage of sound, adding a sense of quirkiness and individuality to the otherwise stark and brazen sound. The synthesisers are superb, bubbling and soaring above the mix in an incredibly cinematic fashion. Once the introduction is concluded, the vocals are added, chanting warily to the listener. After the vocals have ceased their chanting, the track continues in the same repetitive fashion, a tempest of heavy psychedelia growing ever more intense with every repetition. The final few minutes are a real treat, summarising the track with an ambient drone of saxophone and guitar, followed by a tumultuous roar of sound from the band and a swirl of manipulated vocals. “You Know You’re Only Dreaming” follows the incessant psychedelia of the previous track almost instantly, with an exciting ambience that restores balance to side one of the vinyl. Turner’s manipulated flute sound caresses this track with a subtle beauty, creating a soundscape on which the rest of the band’s sound is built. The improvisatory jamming of this track moves in giant waves of sound, combining brittle, distorted timbres with mellow, aspirate timbres to create a dense musical landscape. A truly magical end to side one of the vinyl.
Side two opens with “Masters of the Universe”, a legendary hippie anthem that sees the record move into a more vivid direction. The music here is more riff-oriented than the previous tracks, and the general atmosphere is rather more intense, due to the relentless pounding of bass that drives the track along. The hypnotic vocals chant lyrics in standard Hawkwind fashion. This track ends with a distorted explosion, a fitting conclusion to the explosive psychedelia that has been explored. And then, from the ashes of the unabated pounding of “Masters of the Universe”, rises the phoenix of “We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago”, casting rays of shimmering acoustic guitars onto the unexpectant ears of the listeners. This incredibly moving highlight moves the album immediately into a softer and more thoughtful direction, acting as somewhat of a revelation in the abyss of pounding guitars and aggressive drumming that surrounds it. The acoustically driven sound is warmly welcomed after the cascade of aggressive distortion, and the glitter of guitars adds well needed contrast to the album. The lyrics in this song are of beautiful simplicity, a significant call to the citizens of earth to care for their habitat. After this meaningful journey through the realms of our earthly home, Hawkwind enters their psychedelic space shuttle once more and sets fourth on another welcome voyage into the realms of space-rock. “Adjust Me” follows a similar format to the previous psychedelic jams that are featured on the album, but this time there is a patient and more subtle approach to the improvisation. This track has more of an exotic flavour than the previous jams, which is created through the lack of distortion and the abundance of acoustic instruments that characterises it’s sound. The album closer, “Children of the Sun”, is another predominantly acoustic track, which concludes the album with the hippie acid-folk sound that is laced throughout the entire album. This track brilliantly summarises the sound of the record, with a repetitive guitar and bass riff, softly embellished with an aspirate flute sound and the deep reverberations of a gong. This charming resolution to the album leaves the record steaming in the turntable, a souvenir of the journey that has taken place.
I consider this Hawkwind release to be the definitive space-rock album. The album fuses Hawkwind’s aggressive signature improvisations with the folky and melodious acoustic sounds that were visited in their self-titled debut, creating an intriguing blend of spacey atmospheres. “X In Search of Space” is riddled with imperfections, but that is simply the space rock sound that is characteristic of the era. Hawkwind had many years and many more releases to develop their sound, but while many of their subsequent albums are masterful, every subsequent release brought them further from the true cosmic power of their original space-rock sound.
“X In Search of Space” is an essential addition to any space-rock collection and the definitive space-rock album.