Review Summary: Old yet new and uniquely Hawkwind.
This review is in no way unbiased, so it's more of an opinion piece than any kind of critique.
When I first listened to The Machine Stops it seemed like a composite of Hawkwind throughout the years. Bits of In My Room – The Golden Void, Synchronised Blue – Urban Guerrilla/Hassan-i Sabbah.
Some of the synths are traditional Hawkwind sounds and kind of immune from dating. There is also a lot of detailed work in the electronics, especially in percussion. The guitars are rough garage/psychedelic rock in places and refined classic rock/prog in others. This album is an improvement over Onwards in my opinion, or anything after Alien 4 in fact. At last no re-recordings. The production seemed a bit smooth and lacking in bass. This made the very first listen a little flat and sterile. Hexagone production stood out as clean deep and crisp. A contribution from Dead Fred.
I had pretty low expectations for the album and it had already exceeded those however, and I like the narrative. I think the E M Forster 1909 short story the album is based on, captures the future shock of technology really well. The simulation of bringing people together from everywhere through augmenting reality, whilst securing isolation by never leaving the hive. And by redefining 'knowledge' as ideas freed from the burden of facts.
Greg Egan's 1994 Permutation City did a similar thing with technology in people's internet lives; having communication avatars indistinguishable from their actual image but programmed to show what ever emotion or affectation was favoured or desired.
I think Mr Dibs is a pretty good front-man and great at doing some Bob Calvert like parts live. But his voice sounds nasal to me at times. Dave Brock's voice is one of the defining aspects of Hawkwind and use on the album is one of the reasons this feels in some way, a resumption to a path reached but not taken some years ago.
The length of the album is balanced and found myself listening to it again straight away. That has not happened since the first time I heard Levitation. After a couple of listens, I no longer found myself picking out bits reused from their back catalogue. Whilst I would always favour more growly chugging bass in the mix, it propels the music with ease. There are multi-layers to the sound that become more and more apparent with each listen.
Months after release I still listen to this album on a regular basis and it stands up with some of their early eighties output such as Choose Your Masques. This is perhaps not by chance as they nicely inserted Arrival In Utopia into their live tour of The Machine Stops.
Hawkwind have influenced bands like Farflung, Cosmic Dead, The Heads, Moon Duo, Terminal Cheesecake and White Hills. It's good to hear when listening to their latest album, that they have reconnected with their strengths from the last 47 years to produce something fresh and energized.
This offering is a return to a kind of consistent studio form, I didn't think achievable. It took a few listens but I think it will be remembered by many Hawkwind fans, as a late period classic.