Head Cleaner is the latest solo venture by Ade Shaw, the ex-Hawkwind and current Bevis Frond bassist. Although he wrote and produced the album and was responsible for almost all of the instrumentation, as with previous releases like Tea for the Hydra (1996) and Displaced Person (1997), Shaw has enlisted several familiar guests to lend their distinctive talents to the proceedings. The heads gathered for this outing are Woronzow Records family members Ric Gunther of The Outskirts of Infinity, Hawkwind and Bowie collaborator Simon House, Bevis Frond main-man Nick Saloman, former Frond Bari Watts, and Shaw’s son, Aaron.
On this album, Shaw’s latter-day psychedelia doesn’t take the form of the extended grooves that characterized the recent Woronzow/Rubric release Acid Jam 2, on which he played a prominent role. Instead, it’s rendered in more traditional and more economical pop-song formats. While that approach is best exemplified by the catchy “Mobius Trip”, other tracks do expand the equation and amplify the trippier dimension of Shaw’s sound. On “Symbiosis”, for instance, that’s achieved by the incorporation of a retro-futuristic computer-generated voice (in addition to Shaw’s echoing vocals), some astral guitar work from Aaron Shaw, and a weaving, pseudo-eastern violin melody courtesy of Simon House. Whereas “Symbiosis” has a spacey feel to it, things are brought back down to earth with the largely acoustic number “You and Me”, on which House’s violin provides a more earthy, folk-flavored accompaniment.
Adrian Shaw’s past life as a Hawklord makes its presence felt on “Round and Round”, a flying, up-tempo track to which Nick Saloman contributes both a twittering Korg synth and a guitar solo. In contrast, “Drowning” and “Tattered Butterfly” have a grounded, heavy grind about them. These numbers are more bluesy in their orientation and feature stellar guitar solos by (respectively) Aaron Shaw and Bari Watts. Watts is also the force behind the album’s standout, “Staring at the Sun”. The song is raised head and shoulders above the rest of the tracks by his riffs as well as his searing, extended freak-outs—suggesting a respectfully cranked-up amalgam of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men”.
Head Cleaner does get a bit staid in places. Some of its keyboard parts stray into church-organ territory and, elsewhere, its subtle retro charm occasionally lapses into dull anachronism. Still, despite the presence of a couple of mundane, pedestrian tracks, Shaw also produces flashes of transcendence that make the album a must for aficionados of all things Frond and Woronzow.