Hawkwind Hit a Late-Career High With 'All Aboard the Skylark'

The nostalgia circuit will have to wait a while. Hawkwind have just released an album that borrows from the 1970s, but still sounds relevant in 2019.

All Aboard the Skylark

Cherry Red

25 September 2019

Pause for a moment and think about your grandfather. There he is, resplendent in beige knitwear, smiling benignly as he gently dozes in his favorite armchair, in the gap between dinner and his mid-evening bedtime. Unless, of course, your grandfather is Hawkwind's Dave Brock, who at 78 years of age has just made one of the best rock albums of 2019.

All Aboard the Skylark is Hawkwind's 32nd album in a 50-year career, and Brock has helmed every one. Impervious to fashion, critical mauling, inter-band squabblefests, and a prodigious intake of pharmaceuticals, the band have plowed through half a century of popular music with the steely determination of a Polar icebreaker. Miraculously, 2019 sees them pretty close to the top of their game.

Last year's semi-orchestral album Road to Utopia, didn't quite hit the mark, in spite of the presence of Brock's old busking buddy, Eric Clapton. Possibly with that in mind, the 'Wind looked back towards their golden era - the 1970s - for inspiration. They've combined that with a little contemporary vim and vigor and made a great sounding record that contains all the stuff you want and expect from a Hawkwind album without it sounding like a cynical, money-grabbing exercise in self-plagiarisation. You get the motorik grooves, the sci-fi fantasy lyrics, and the whooshing synths, but the good news is that all those parts are bolted to some great tunes.

You can't help but love an album that starts with a tune called "Flesh Fondue". Over a relentless, punk rock rhythm, Brock yells a delightfully daft lyric about intergalactic meat-munching, which not many bands would even consider, let alone pull off. As a sorbet to clear the palate, "Nets of Space" floats some trademarked, atmospheric synths over a vaguely tribal rhythm. Did someone say "shamanic"? But it's not all business as usual – "Last Man on Earth" has a lighter touch and the band break out the acoustic guitars and – whisper it- sound a little bit like Crowded House. There aren't many Hawkwind tunes you can say that about. The sax arrangement is a lovely detail and a cute nod to their past.

The title track is what lazy rock DJs will call "classic Hawkwind". It unfolds gently, with burbling synths and a reverb-soaked sax, until an overactive bassline pushes everything along with a real sense of urgency. A brief burst of "Aladdin Sane" piano and after a mere four minutes, in comes the guitar riff. And then, it has the good taste to fade away gently. Not many bands who inhabit Hawkwind's genre (whatever that is) would display that degree of restraint.

At over nine minutes, "The Fantasy of Faldum" is the album's statement piece. Before you roll your eyes over the sword and sorcery imagery, the whooshing keyboards and the weird, bleeping and blooping, remember – Hawkwind invented that. The tune could have overbalanced and tipped into self-parody, but there's enough forward motion to keep it interesting. It's the perfect closer for a genuinely great record.

If you needed another incentive to pick up a copy of All Aboard the Skylark, the album comes with Acoustic Daze, an album of Hawkwind tunes played "unplugged". It's a bit of a mixed bag; some tunes survive the ordeal of being stripped of electricity while others sound like the demos they were. It's nice to have, but only the most ardent Hawkwind fan will find themselves returning to it.

Critics have not always been kind to Hawkwind. "One-chord wonders" is just one of the charming brickbats hurled at the band. I can't imagine Dave Brock cares anymore; after all, he's probably outlived all the people responsible for all the snarky comments, and those who survive are probably in nursing homes, waiting for a bowl of mashed banana and a visit from the grandchildren. Brock, however, has a 50th-anniversary tour to prepare for. I wonder what he and Keith Richards will talk about when they're the last men alive on Earth?





'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.


Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.


PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.


Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.


'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.