Hawkwind is a band that is almost a genre within itself. It pretty much ploughed the spacerock furrow alone, and has never really left its core sound along the way since. There have been more ambient leanings at times, a spell of something more heavy metal-ish, even proto-punk, or just plain psychedelic, but the band has always managed to keep one foot firmly on its own ground. Coming up with your thirty-fourth studio album then presents a lot of options. Will it be more of the same or a lurch into another area? Will it prove to be conceptual or something more personal? In what you might consider a typical Hawkwind approach, this album is all of those.
As alluded to in the title, Somnia revolves around the different aspects of sleep, from the Roman mythology of Somnus, the god of sleep, through to paranoic insomnia, feverish dreaming, strange encounters and meditations on sleep and dreaming. This is an imagining that gives a broad scope for the fanciful and also the personal. There is much tale telling in the lyrics, but also engrossing meditations and impressions on the idea.
The music itself follows the Hawkwind template of driving rock sections slipping into the more ambient synth driven parts. The songs might be sung in a traditional style or the vocal mixed back into a weave with the music making for more colourful instrumentals. The result is a kaleidoscope of sound and vocal juxtapositions that brings the subject matter to life wonderfully. What could have been a sonorous mess remains airier and listenable. In keeping with more recent Hawkwind releases the sound is lighter and clearer with much of the fuzziness of older albums now gone. Whether this is a deliberate choice or the product of technological improvements would be a moot point, but it does help Hawkwind have a cleaner template on which to embroider its ideas. (The album was created during lockdown, so the musicians had to work remotely).
As you might expect, the musicianship on the album is just right. The band members rarely get mentioned for their musicianship but they are really good performers and continually creative. Dave Brock’s guitar work is a fluid accurate guitarist and inventive synth player, Magnus Martin is a stylish player who appears to keep the band centred with his bass, whilst Richard Chadwick is a somewhat under estimated drummer, playing with inventive, expressive rhythms and energy. The trio work well as a unit achieving an album that is well produced but with enough dirt in the sound to make things a little gritty.
There has been, and probably always will be, a debate about which are the best or worst of Hawkwind’s albums. This one is undoubtedly one of the more interesting and consistent ones with engaging lyrics and colourful instrumentation. The hard riffing is probably not as urgent or incisive as in yesteryear, but they more than make up for that with a clarity of sound and a more general listenability than on some other of the band’s releases. It builds on the tough and unconventional style that Hawkwind is known for, producing an album that is expressive and ingenious whilst being defyingly unorthodox. You might say it is typically Hawkwind, them again you might not. The band was, and remains, enigmatic.
The album is released to coincide with this year’s Hawkfest, the three-day event 27th – 29th August in Axminster, Devon, including support from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Soft Machine, Gordon Giltrap, and others, which will actually mark the anniversary of the band’s first ever gig.
The band will play its rearranged date at the London Palladium on Thursday 28th October preceded by a September tour across the UK, with support yet to be announced. Details below.
2. Strange Encounters
4. Counting Sheep
5. China Blues
6. It’s Only A Dream
8. Sweet Dreams
9. I Can’t Get You Off My Mind
10. Small Objects In Space
13. Cave Of Phantom Dreams
2. Strange Encounters
1. Counting Sheep
2. Small Objects In Space
3. It’s Only A Dream
5. Sweet Dreams
6. I Can’t Get You Off My Mind
Dave Brock – vocals, lead guitar, keyboards and synths
Richard Chadwick – drums
Magnus Martin – bass, vocal and keyboards
Mel Rogers, Trixie Smith – backing vocals
CD / Vinyl / Download / Streaming
Release date: 10th September 2021
Label: Cherry Red
The tour dates are:
Friday 27th – Sunday 29th – Hawkfest, Axminster, East Devon
Saturday 11th September – Cambridge, Corn Exchange
Sunday 12th September – Royal Leamington Spa, The Assembly
Tuesday 14th September – Brighton, The Dome
Thursday 16th September – York, The Barbican
Friday 17th September – Gateshead, The Sage
Sunday 26th September – Liverpool, Grand Central Hall
Monday 27th September – Manchester, O2 The Ritz
Thursday 28th October – London, Palladium