Jan-Simon : When nothing strange happens, next year will be the 50th anniversary of Hawkwind. Legendary in small circles and known by many primarily (or just) for the fact that a certain Ian McKilmister, a.k.a. Lemmy used to be this band’s bass player. The glory days of the band are long gone, but Hawkwind is still active and now releases its umpteenth record ‘Road To Utopia’. Number 31 according to the official count.
Hawkwind is since many years Dave Brock’s personal instrument. He is also the only constant in the ever changing carrousel of musicians that is Hawkwind. For this album Brock, in his seventies already, goes back to the band’s most successful period, the years between 1971 and 1977. A period in which the band made records such as ‘X In Search Of Space’, ‘Space Ritual’ and ‘Hall Of The Mountain Grill’ and thus almost singlehandedly created spacerock. Instead of simply putting out another compilation or live album, a method used by Brock and his colleagues of the moment a number of times, Hawkwind chose this time to take a few of the classic songs and rerecord them in a lush orchestral arrangement. Oh wait, even that has been done before. But by miracle, it works this time. ‘Road To Utopia’ happens to be one of the best Hawkwind albums of the past twenty years or so.
The quality of the base material will undoubtedly have helped. Composer / producer / director Mike Batt has created a luxurious tailormade overcoat of strings and horns. Batt, knalbumown as the director of the Royal Philharmonic, but also the one who discovered Katie Melua (yes, the one of nine million bicycles in Beijing), has made Hawkwind sound surprisingly poppy and relaxed. The added elements, including a guitar solo by aging guitar god Eric Clapton, never feel out of place. Of course it makes a difference that the songs chosen from Hawkwind’s large discography are suited for such a makeover. They are not the best known, no ‘Brainstorm’, ‘Silver Machine’, ‘Psychedelic Warlords’ or ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’, but they hail from the same period and show a more laid back Hawkwind as could be heard in ‘The Watcher’ and ‘We Took The Wrong Steps Years Ago’. The result, call it Hawkwind-light, is an easy to digest album with a few misses (a good Hawkwind tradition).
These pale in comparison with the hits in which Hawkwind sounds like a band that could have taken on a battle with alternative pop heroes from the eighties like Midnight Oil and Waterboys – and might have won that battle. Only Hawkwind has always been a stubborn band not known for making sensible decisions, commercially at least. That has also been their charm: never selling out and going for the easy wins. But if there is anything we can learn from ‘Road To Utopia’, it is that Hawkwind could have been really big if they had gone a different route. That one recycled song from 1971 tells it all: ‘We Took The Wrong Steps Years Ago’. No sold out stadiums, no million sellers for Hawkwind. What they do have is a fine album that might serve as a stepping stone for those who have never heard of this band. A stepping stone into the universe called Hawkwind