Deep in the Hive are they really alive?
The elder statesmen of 'space rock', Hawkwind have had more incarnations than The Doctor. For those who grew up on lineups featuring Lemmy, Bob Calvert, Nick Turner, Huw Lloyd Langton not to mention talented musicians such as Ginger Baker and Simon House, it is tempting to dismiss the last twenty five years (!) of Hawkwind's output. Thoise more recent albums have generally been more mindful and melodic, lacking the energy, drive and raw edge that characterised earlier albums, although the live band never lost its sparkle.
So what of The Machine Stops, the 2016 offering from Dr Technical and his current crew? It can be summedup easily: The Machine Stops represents a remarkable return to form! The concept of The Machine Stops is a society where people live isolated in hexagonal cells, communicatiung only over the internet and reliant on 'The Machine' to serve their needs. Naturally the protagonaist escapes to discover the outside world is 'green' and not the scorched landscape of Damnation Alley. Inevitablly the machine starts to fail. Based on (inspired by?) a century-old novella of the same name by E.M. Forster, an astonishingly accurate vision of some aspects of modern society that reflects a real current anxiety that we could all end up in our private bubbles serviced only by Amazon Drones.
Perhaps the greatest loss to Hawkwind was the departure of Bob Calvert, poet-musician he was responsible for the best of Hawkwind's short, focused rock songs, the classic example being the Hawklords album. Somehow The Machine Stops manages to capture, above all, the spirit of that classic album in rolling basslines, catchy riffs and tight lyrics. Most of all it has a continual feeling of excitement as well as some touches of humour. If this album had come out in the early 80s, very little of it would have been a great surprise. But this is not a dated album, it makes excellent use of modern production techniques and sounds. By refernecing eBay and the modern world, rather than following Forster's proto-steampunk vision Hawkwind's Machine is an extrapolation of today's world where social networks replace social interaction.
Interestingly, one lesson Brock has learned is to 'leave them wanting more' - several of the tracks woudl have been excellent starting points for the extended improvisation and exploration that characterised early Hawkwind albums, to the point where the end of some tracks actually feels too abrubt. That said, live performances of the material have been the opportunities to explore these avenues, notably and excetional extended jam book-ended by Synchronised Blue - for me the stand-out track on the album - see the footage below for proof.
So let's run through the album and look at each track in turn.