Review Summary: Stellar Variations is different, but sometimes different is good. Hawkwind – A trip through space, Part XVIII – Variations on a Style
Writer's block can be a bit of a bummer. Sometimes if you do the same thing for a very long time, you get utterly burnt out from it. This can then cause resentment with what you have done, and so you decide to put whatever it is you are doing on the back foot. This is what happened to me over the course of the past year, and in some ways it gives me a little bit of insight into the world that Hawkwind came from. I haven't done nearly as much reviewing as I had intended, neither have I really listened to anything new. Partly because, for a while at least, I was fed up with music.
It is now that I write, nearly a year later, about Stellar Variations. The latest full album from space rockers Hawkwind. Whereas the full version of the band have several more members, the Hawkwind Light Orchestra has only three. Long time members Brock, Chadwick and Niall Hone compose this band within a band. But even several members down, Hawkwind still put on an excellent show.
The members of HLO are:
Dave Brock - Effects, Guitar, Keyboards, Synthesizer, Vocals
Richard Chadwick - Drums, Vocals
Niall Hone - Bass, Effects, Guitar, Keyboards
At times, the album shows flairs of more 'traditional' sounds. Every member knows exactly what they are bringing to the party and it really shows when you have three of the most stable members of the band. Even then, they still bring in that trademark eccentricity into their music. They have forty years of adding sound to their music, and they put this to good use. Stellar Variations is full of beeps, creeps, weeps and voice overs. Is this done in order to compensate for their missing members" It might well be, but the case remains, the one thing Dave Brook can do really well is work a Synthesizer.
The group jump from song to song flawlessly, and the entire album has excellent flow. Is this really an album of many songs or one super song stuck together" Hawkwind bring in plenty of experimentation, and for several parts of the album they lose their rock roots entirely. The beginning of 'All our Dreams' shows this off well, having a very quiet and relaxed tone to it, before finally taking it up a gear and expanding into a much rockier mindset. This is the case throughout the album, and you really do have many examples of Hawkwind mixing their lighter side to their traditional jam rock roots.
If you are a fan of Hawkwind's vocals, you might be in for a bit of disappointment. Brook seems content to leave the vocal duties to new member Mr. Dibs, and he isn't on this album. The majority of it is instrument and vocal-less. 'It's all Lies' is the most 'traditional' song in a sense, with Dave Brook providing most of the vocals. It makes a welcome change and Brook proves that he can sing the part if he does so wish. Even forty years later, he still sounds like the busker that he is at heart.
Stellar Variations is a side step from Onward as opposed to having any signs of progress. It can be a little disappointing as you feel that the album is one good mix away from greatness. But as it stands it is put together well. As a three piece, Hawkwind are not quite the band they normally are, and it does show their. Synthesizers will only get you so far, and not having a dedicated bassist does hurt the band, considering how much Hawkwind relied on one in the past. It looks the part, but like all good Easter eggs, it is a little bit hollow.
So is travelling light the way for Hawkwind to go" I would hope that on the next album Hawkwind bring their full force back to bare, because they have a really good team going on at the moment. As far as side projects go, Stellar Variations is enough to whet our appetites at the moment whilst we wait for them to do what they do best. Forty years is a long time to be doing anything, and it is amazing that Hawkwind can do what they do now, especially considering that they have enough past members to fill a small train. Stellar Variations is the newest in a line of consistent Hawkwind material that have been carrying on since the new century. Hopefully they keep it up for as long as possible, because at the moment there really is no stopping this silver machine.