Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 25: Hawkwind, "In Search Of Space"

Artist: Hawkwind
Album: In Search Of Space
Year: 1971
Label: United Artists

With most bands, you can define their sound by saying it's "a bit of this band, combined with a bit of this other band" or by simply giving them a genre. However, there are a handful of bands that are so original, so unlike anything else ever heard, that they can only be described as defining themselves. These bands are often the most influential and truly original bands in history, and their importance can rarely be overstated. Somewhere between heavy metal, sci-fi sounds effects, and psychedelia lies one of the most original and truly amazing bands in history, Hawkwind. Though the group went through a number of lineup changes, and a few stylistic changes, their early work remains some of the most original and truly stunning music that the world has ever heard. Making some of the most unique half-metal, half-something indescribable, the compositions of the band are often almost orchestral in both sound and structure, and regardless of length, the band packs more superb sound into a single song then many artists create in their entire career. Having been active with one lineup or another for more than forty years, the recorded catalog of Hawkwind is both massive and diverse. Yet there is little question that their finest and most creative period was the bands' first era, when nothing seemed to be too "out there" for them to perform. Within these early records, there are few albums that are quite as magnificent as Hawkwind's phenomenal 1971 release, In Search Of Space.

Everything about In Search Of Space is "artsy" in every sense of the word. From the music to the cover to the liner notes to the inspiration behind the record, the album was an "art" record before the term was even used. The cover is especially wild, designed by Barney Bubbles and the original vinyl had an interlocking "X" leading to a full foldout. Many people see this "X" as preceding the title, and therefore many people refer to the album as X In Search Of Space. The back cover is just as intriguing, featuring a nude photo of Stacia (an exotic dancer with the band) which was altered by heavy strobe lights. The phrase: "TECHNICIÄNS ÖF SPÅCE SHIP EÅRTH THIS IS YÖÜR CÄPTÅIN SPEÄKING YÖÜR ØÅPTÅIN IS DEAD" is written on the back, and many people use the bands' usage of the umlaut as the basis for their argument that In Search Of Space is a heavy metal record. The inside of the album features an unprecedented twenty-four page book of photos and the "Hawkwind Log," which is a series of entries which attempt to give all of the songs a single, cohesive theme. The fact that so much artistry and time was put into the album design serves as an example of just how much the band felt that their music went beyond just the contents of the record itself. Furthermore, the album was remastered and re-released in 1996, and much of the drum and bass playing was re-recorded, as well as additional vocals. While one can argue whether or not this was a bad move, there is little question that the original version of the album is still the one to seek out. With each band member contributing to various areas of the project, there are truly few other albums that are as significant and all-encompassing as In Search Of Space.

Truth be told, few bands have had as impressive a lineup of musicians go through their ranks as one will find looking at the past members of Hawkwind. From Ginger Baker to Lemmy Kilmister to Arthur Brown, some of the most accomplished musicians in history have all spent time as a member of Hawkwind. The band has had more then thirty different musicians over the years, yet one member, Dave Brock, has been with the band since it first began. As the bands' founder, as well as handling a majority of the guitar playing, but also lending harmonica, synthesizers, and some vocals to In Search Of Space, few artists have has as long and as distinguished a career as Dave Brock. Throughout the entire album, Brock's playing is truly inspired, and whether he is going off on long, winding solos or running through fast chord progressions, he proves to be one of the finest players of his generation. Brock is also responsible for the writing of every song on In Search Of Space except for "Children Of The Sun." This fact alone catapults him to the top of the list of rocks' finest composers, and the songs he writes are light-years ahead of their time. The albums' first and most significant track, "You Shouldn't Do That" is a fifteen minute masterpiece, and Brock's writing and composition talents are as significant as his guitar playing as the song is by far one of the most stunning songs ever recorded. Though the rest of the band is undeniably talented, there is no doubt anywhere in the catalog of Hawkwind that, at the end of the day, it is Dave Brock's band.

The rest of the band that plays on In Search Of Space is absolutely fantastic, and the overall sound and mood of the record is like nothing else one can experience. From the long and textured jam portions which are as psychedelic as one ca get, to the additions of strange and often spooky sound effects throughout, the album is an experience onto itself. There are even moments when the punctuating saxophones (played by Nik Turner) are almost Zappa-eqsue in both sound and placement. Yet even with small similarities to other bands, Hawkwind's music is always heavier and this fact alone sets them in a category all their own. "You Shouldn't Do That," as well as a majority of the album is driven by the brilliant bass playing of Dave Anderson. Finding the ideal balance between moody and aggressive, Anderson's bassline for the dominant song is by far one of the greatest ever written. Though much of his work was replaced on the 1996 remaster, drummer Terry Ollis is nothing short of perfect on In Search Of Space. Using his entire kit on every song, few drummers of his era showed as much diversity and pure talent. Both contributing to the album at different times, the keyboards, synthesizers, and other scattered sound effects were performed by Del Dettmar and Dik Milk (real name Michael Davies). It is this final element that truly makes the music of Hawkwind unlike anything else, and the overall sound that the band achieves throughout In Search Of Space is something that one must experience firsthand to be properly appreciated.

When it comes to truly original sounds, there are few bands that were as pioneering and as unique as the early incarnations of Hawkwind. With a sound and style that influenced everyone from The Stooges to Mudhoney to Sleep, there are few bands that have ever created a masterpiece that is even remotely close to the sound found on In Search Of Space. There is not a band note anywhere on the album, and while each song is an experience onto itself, the six songs also blend together and create one of the most awe-inspiring musical performances ever captured. Guided by the playing and writing of Dave Brock, few bands have ever created as awesome a sound, and In Search Of Space is truly an album that all music fans must experience at least once in their life. Often drawing influence from the writing of Michael Moorcock, Hawkwind is easily deserving of the title "ultimate sci-fi band," as their music is as spacey and fantastical as one could ever imagine. With a flawless rhythm section, visionary synthesizer work, and sharp, punctuating horns, few bands have been able to so perfectly, and seemingly so effortlessly combine all of these sounds into such a stunning musical work. By far one of the most influential and absolutely remarkable albums ever recorded, Hawkwind's 1971 release, In Search Of Space, remains largely unrivaled nearly forty years after its initial release and it is an album with which every music fan should be very familiar.

Standout tracks: "You Shouldn't Do That," "You Know You're Only Dreaming," and "Master Of The Universe."


Anonymous said...

Can you cite your source or more details about the drum and bass tracks being re-recorded? Who are the replacement musicians?
I'm interested because as a longtime Hawkwind fan, this is the first I've heard of a re-recording of any tracks on this re-issue.

The Music Guru said...

The 1996 re-release is completely remastered. The final three tracks on the album (Seven By Seven, Silver Machine, and Born To Go) all featre Robert Calvert on vocals, Simon King on drums, and Lemmy on bass and vocals on "Silver Machine."

During the studio sessions that produced "Seven By Seven," the group overdubbed much of the drum work with King's playing, and the additional vocals were also added during these sessions.

You can find info about it over on wikipedia (not the most reliable source) as well as on a handful of Hawkwind related sites.