Hawkwind's first studio album proper in five years marks a staggering 26 outings for the space rock stalwarts. They may not be as prolific as they once were, but they remain as influential as they are triumphantly unfashionable, and they've outlasted virtually all of their peers. After over 40 years in the business, however, no one could blame them for ending it here. They've not, but questions need to be asked regarding the group's quality control. Blood of the Earth simply isn't up to standards they've previously achieved.
The complete Hawkwind experience has always involved a communal ritual staged in a darkened room, band and audience as one, swaying wildly to the music's organic oscillations or crouching on the floor in an almost foetal position as waves of sound crash all around. Even in their 1970s heyday, classic albums such as Doremi Fasol Latido and Hall of the Mountain Grill were trumped by the in-concert masterpiece Space Ritual, clearly demonstrating where the group's strengths lay. In the decades since, their recorded work has been as erratic as it has been copious, and the stage has remained their natural domain. That's not about to change.
Blood of the Earth is dominated by electronica, which in itself isn't necessarily a problem. There are, however, virtually none of the simplistic, repetitive, driving rock riffs which propelled classics such as Born to Go, Brainstorm or Master of the Universe. Solos are as likely to be taken by keyboard as guitar, and when the band does kick up some dust it's thanks to You'd Better Believe It and Sweet Obsession, both re-recordings of songs eons old. It's a longstanding Hawkwind tradition to rework material in this way but they shouldn't be the energetic high points.
Occasional Hawkwind collaborator and all-round synth genius Tim Blake is the one weaving the electronic fabric which holds the album together, and his flourishes span from ethereal and entrancing to sinister and unsettling with masterful ease. It's just a question of balance. There's not a whole lotta rock. None of the three-chord warp drive needed to take this into orbit. Certainly the eerie atmospheres that the band once conjured like so many cosmic wizards are nowhere to be seen or heard. As the album sails off into the outer reaches of the galaxy on a glittering carpet of new age stardust, is the good ship Hawkwind finally sputtering to a halt?
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