Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Hawkwind
Astounding Sounds Amazing Music


Released 1976 on Charisma
Reviewed by Joolio Geordio, 10/11/2002ce


Hawkwind – Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music


Whenever it was I nailed my colours to the mast and declared to the world I was a 70’s rock fan some people always said, “ah you must like Hawkwind then”. However others dissed them, writing them off as just being heavy metal with Dr Who sound effects. As a result the young Joolio invested a portion of his fortnightly giro cheques in records by Pink Floyd, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin with investigations into the Hawklords placed in a holding pattern for a couple of years. Indeed it wasn’t until I got to college and found myself sharing a house with not one but two other rockers. One a skateboarding thrash metal fan and the other a dyed in the wool heavy rock fan with a record collection spanning everything from AC/DC to Yes and of course including Hawkwind. And so it was in the autumn/ winter of 1987/88 I managed to borrow a tape of Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music with a couple of bonus tracks - a remix of Hurry on Sundown and a live version of Motorway City.

Now it has become received wisdom that Hawkwind peaked around 1975 and after the departure of Lemmy and more or less dribbled on and on in ever decreasing circles with ever diminishing returns ever since. Yes and no. True 1975 was the high water mark for the band but they didn’t become a creatively spent force overnight.

This period was a turbulent time for the band Lemmy had gone, and they had also parted company with record label United Artists and long time manager Doug Smith. As a consequence Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music has always been viewed by the critics as the poor relation of Hawkwind LP’s of the 70’s. The band were considered to be floundering, uncertain of their future direction, the addition of Paul Rudolph to the close to classic line up of Brock, Turner, Calvert, King, Powell and House saw the band edge towards a funkier much more commercial direction. And to this end Astounding Sounds was considered the weak link, a band treading water before the return to form of Quark Strangeness and Charm.

I beg to differ and whilst QSAC is a good album its not a great one and Astounding Sounds is actually the better of the two. And true not every track is a sure-fire classic but it’s a more consistent album with less padding and fewer filler tracks than QSAC.

The Hawkwind sound evolved throughout the 1970’s with each influx of new blood bringing something different to the mix. As a result each new album saw the adoption of new styles whilst retaining other trademark sounds. Indeed after 1974’s Hall of the Mountain Grill Hawkwind had already virtually cast off the last vestiges of the grungy, organic, sound that characterised their albums from X In Search of Space through to Space Ritual Alive. Whilst the acoustic guitar driven interludes also fell by the way side following The Demented Man on the 1975 release Warrior at the Edge of Time.

Nevertheless despite the move in new directions familiar Hawkwind trademarks remained steadfastly in place, Brock’s crunching guitar riffs, Nik Turner’s saxophone breaks and not forgetting Simon House’s sweeping, grandiose synth work.

Astounding Sounds does continue to share additional characteristics with earlier releases notably Warrior on the Edge of Time in terms of the balance between songs and instrumental breaks. However the album is also characterised by mid 1970’s production techniques which result in a thinner overall sound and the drum work for example is much sharper and crisper but ultimately more lightweight than on previous releases.

There are 7 tracks on this album encompassing 4 different styles and to me there has almost been a conscious effort to pair the similarly styled tracks together almost balancing the album out. Kerb Crawler being stylistically the odd man out.

And so what of the songs themselves – although the material isn’t quite as strong as on previous outings Astounding Sounds actually kicks off with three good, solid efforts.

The first song pairing sees the most traditionally Hawkwind sounding tracks on the album Reefer Madness and Steppenwolf. Both pursue quite a dark brooding direction and are ushered in by Dave Brock’s patent trademark guitar cranking out the riffs over a bedrock of Simon House’s swirling keyboard work with the sax of the soon to depart Nik Turner also in evidence.
Next up are the album’s two instrumental workouts the Simon House penned City of Lagoons and Paul Rudolf effort the Aubergine That Ate Rangoon. The former is great, a Simon House master class, however it does sounds like it has stepped straight off a Pink Floyd album with Rick Wright styled synth work and Gilmouresque guitar doodling. To be honest this track wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Wish You Were Here (Indeed to Gilmour handled some production duties on this album and if you had to guess which track then this would be the obvious choice – you would be wrong however that comes later!!)

Whilst City of Lagoons hangs together brilliantly the Aubergine That Ate Rangoon quite simply doesn’t. To me this is the filler track on the Lp, the padding whether it’s a product of its time/ bad production or just weak songwriting I’ll leave that up to you to decide but to me it sounds like a theme tune to a children’s TV programme.

Kerb Crawler is the obvious single on the album and continues in the pseudo glam rock/pub rock vein first evidenced by Silver Machine and more recently by Kings of Speed although this Dave Gilmour produced effort is, in my opinion, the better song of the three.

If the album has a dark typically Hawkwindian pair of songs to start with then the final pairing also dovetail well this time in a soaring uplifting vein. Kadu Flyer and Chronoglide Skyway finish the album and are the most lightweight tracks on the Lp but that’s not a criticism. Kadu Flyer initially ploughs the same furrow as Webweaver from Hall of the Mountain Grill but then undergoes a dramatic metamorphoses. The track itself has the musical fingerprints of co-author Simon House all over it in both his keyboard work and violin playing while Brock’s guitar chugs along. It takes backwards glances to both 1967 and recently jettisoned acoustic legacy of Hawkwind but updated with 1976 production values. It is like a halfway house nodding respectfully to the past and pointing the way forward into the future.

It then dovetails effortless into the Alan Powell effort Chronoglide Skyway. This is a smooth, shimmering synth driven instrumental the intro of which reminds me of ThighPaulSandra circa 1996 – Brock abandons his trade mark riffery for a soaring Gilmouresque lead guitar line as the disc plays out.

By all accounts despite the confusion Hawkwind were experiencing musically the 1976 tour was one of the most spectacular yet. However internal politics played their hand once again and blew the band apart with the sackings of Turner, Rudolph and Powell and the potential and the possible new directions highlighted on this disc were tragically left unexplored as the band regrouped and tried to rediscover their original course on Quark Strangeness and Charm – but that is another story.

For me Astounding Sounds Amazing Music is a great album and listening to it takes me back to the dark nights of autumn/winter 1987/88 when it provided the soundtrack to me trying (and more likely failing) to write my college assignments or more likely was my getting ready music before heading out to the student union!!!

Hope that you enjoy it.

Joolio


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