Okay, so here’s an update on the “Savage Hippie” situation: I know I promised that I would have some Hawkwind reviews from Edwin for Thursday but Edwin wrote such a HUGE volume of reviews that it didn’t seem right for me to hoard them for my site. I encouraged him to start his own blog, which you can find here. He will still contribute on Wednesdays but his main focus will be on his own site.
I mention this to avoid any confusion you may have felt over a lack of reviews and to also apologize to Edwin: I’m somewhat stepping on his toes here by reviewing a Hawkwind album.
But it’s only one album and its the one Hawkwind album I know well as its the only Hawkwind album I own: their first (double) live album and perennial fan favorite “Space Ritual.”
Hawkwind is a band that revels in complete and utter b-level cheesiness: they’re a lot like watching a Roger Corman movie. It’s cheaply made, goofily written and presented and absolutely hilarious.
But, like Corman at his best, there is actual love for the art and actual care taken into the presentation to make it as entertaining and sometimes as “deep” and “artistic” as possible.
To extend the Corman metaphor to its fullest, “Space Ritual” is Hawkwind’s “Fall of the House of Usher.” It’s the band’s peak album that shows off their full potential in a way that they could never possibly top, not even with lame sequels.
Hawkwind’s first three albums were definitely not bad: their first was kind of a hippie jam band thing while the second and third coalesced around the idea of repetitive cosmic metal. However, somewhat crude production values and the occasional acoustic guitar sapped some of the albums of their power.
Don’t get me wrong: I love acoustic guitar. I think it’s a great instrument that is somewhat under utilized or utilized poorly. And Dave Brock (guitar player for Hawkwind) is a solid enough guitar player and songwriter that his could pull off a slower, more ballad oriented song.
But Dave is endlessly more fascinating on distorted, electric guitar. And Hawkwind is at their best bashing out simple but catchy riffs while throwing endless bloops, bleeps, saxophone wails and wild bass from Lemmy.
Ah, Lemmy. What more can you say about the man? I am not the biggest Motorhead fan but I adore the man as an image and as a human being and songwriter. He seems completely down to Earth and normal in a way you don’t get from a lot of heavy metal superstars. And his bass playing gives this album a rock solid beat from beginning to end.
The most important aspect of this album is its conceptual nature: it’s supposed to represent some sort of trip through space or a…space ritual, if you will, and as such it is to represent a whole sum of the space travel experience.
To that end, they chuck on a lot of weird sonic collages, monologues, weird poems and endless levels of personal insanity from Robert Calvert, part time singer and lyricist and complete lunatic.
I won’t go into great detail on Calvert but he is a complete believer of his sci-fi gibberish and he delivers it with so much conviction it’s kinda scary.
Yes, these monologues and lyrics are sometimes completely inane “in the fifth second of forever…this is what to do during a SONIC ATTACK” etc but they don’t strike me as banal as Graeme Edge’s poems from the Moody Blues albums.
They’re not examples of great poetry. There’s not even examples of “good” poetry. Hell, they’re not even examples of good “rock” poetry. But they’re delivered with such firm seriousness that you start to fall for their charm in spite of their lunacy.
Most importantly, these interludes tear the album from the reigns of a typical live album and create an atmosphere that the band never really replicated on any other album. The album truly FEELS like a space ritual (whatever that means) and it wouldn’t really have that feel without the insanity of Calvert.
The songs on the album are a mix of old and new. The band smartly arranges the old songs with the new in a way that feels natural and helps the album feel more conceptual. Starting with the old chestnut “Born to Go” was a great idea: it feels like the perfect song to launch a space flight. Brock and Lemmy lock into a tight, distorted groove as the drummer bashes about and the “extra” players layer on the sonic “extras” that give Hawkwind a little extra “spark.”
This album contains the first Hawkwind song I ever heard, “Orgone Accumulator” and it remains, for me, the definitive Hawkwind experience. It mixes everything that’s great and goofy about the band in nearly equal measure and is simply a lot of fun.
The track starts out with some sort of synthesizer/oscillator noise that sounds completely dirty and odd, as if it was farting or burping. Awesome. Brock starts playing a simple three chord riff while Lemmy jumps in line behind him. The drums kick in and instantly create a trance-atmosphere.
Calvert then starts singing…and its glorious.
“I got an orgone accumulator…and it makes me feel greater…I’ll see you sometime later…when I’m through with my accumulator…it’s no social integrator…it’s a one man isolator…it’s a back brain stimulator…it’s a cerebral vibrator…”
By the way, an “orgone accumulator” is a device that allegedly collected “orgone energy” from the atmosphere and gathered it in your brain. You wore a kind of hat connected to wires. It was supposed to bring you a new sense of focus, new positive energy and was the invention of a new age nut job.
So yes. It’s obviously a “cerebral vibrator.” And yes, a “back brain stimulator.”
Which is awesome, but not as awesome as the series of saxophone, guitar, bass, and synthesizer solos that follow Calvert’s awesomely catchy vocal renditions of the lyrics. Brock is no pro: he throws on tons of distortion and special effects to match his somewhat limited technique. But somehow his endless wah-wah solos transcend his limitations to become trance enducing.
I don’t know how he does it. I also don’t know how Lemmy gets such an amazing bass sound and I don’t understand how a drummer playing the same simple beat and simple fills could sound so perfect for 10 minutes.
But he does. The only drummer who can play one beat for an entire song and make it a thrilling masterpiece of drumming economy is, Can’s Jaki Liebezeit but Hawkwind’s drummer…I was going to say “comes close” but no. He doesn’t.
Look: Hawkwind is obviously a second and perhaps even third tier band as far as social import, impact and pure songwriting goes. But there’s just something about what they do that works in spite of the simplicity of it. Nobody is a super pro on their instrument (though Lemmy continues to show great chops) and the whole atmosphere reeks of cheap thrills, bubblegum and buttery popcorn.
But do we always have to be so serious? Yes, most of the time, you’ll want pure poetry (Bob Dylan) psychological thrills (Peter Gabriel) or even pure, incoherent rage (PJ Harvey at her best) in your lyrics.
Sometimes, however, you just need to watch “Godzilla Vs. Biolante” while chugging seven or eight beers and laughing your ass off. Sometimes, you need a bunch of drug addled lunatics trying to take you on a diverse, mind blowing space journey without once changing the time signature.
That’s where Hawkwind come in and why “Space Ritual” is perhaps the greatest musical b-movie style thrill ride you’ll ever experience.
Hey remember the last really awesome heavy metal organ and drum duo you heard? Wasn’t that the tits?
What do you mean you’ve never heard a heavy metal drgan and orums odu before? Me neither!
Except Attila. My second entry in the “Inexplicable Albums” series.
Short, short version: Early Billy Joel juvenile musical drooling from before he became rock and roll’s most beloved hated entertainer.
Long version: I never got the hatred for Billy Joel. Sure, he always kinda looked like a douche (and actually WAS a douche) but his music was nowhere near as flatulent (and flat) as many people claimed. Remember, these are the same people that timidly praise the Carpenters, a much more annoying band with less songwriting talent.
But they got Karen. So I get that.
This 1970 album was Billy’s attempt to follow up his go-nowhere 60’s pop band the Hassles with something a bit “heavy.” To fit in with the times, you see.
And since he’s a keyboard player, not a guitarist he turned to a rather Deep Purple approach with heavy, loud organs and aggressive drumming.
But without a Speed King guitarist or a fat folk loving bass player.
So it sounds a bit thin sometimes.
Still, it is neat to hear Joel, a restrained keyboardist on roughly…100% of his solo recordings just let loose with a barrage of Emerson-ian (Keith, not Ralph Waldo) style organ. Really, the guy has a lot of chops and sometimes I feel like Emerson would have nodded his head in approval.
Perhaps not, though, because Joel, unlike Emerson, knows how to “not to play fast” (to paraphrase Metalocalypse) and lets the melodies do the talking during the slower passages.
I’m sorry, did I say melodies? There are no melodies on this album you daft cookie! Instead, it’s endless organ riffing, soloing, drum bashing and Joel screaming, screaming, SCREAMING at the top of his lungs about a wide variety of topics such as women he wants to fuck/women he HAS fucked/women who WON’T fuck him/amplifiers on fire.
Oh also Brain Invasions. Can’t forget that. Watch out! Joel is coming…to invade your brain. And probably steal your wife. And punch you in the face a lot (he was a boxer, see).
This is an AWFUL review. A tad too “Mark Prindle” for me. Must trudge on, though.
I remember reading a review of this that called it “hamfisted” and that’s actually a pretty good word if a rather strange visual image. Joel sounds like he’s forcing it throughout this hilarious album but at the same time he seems to really revel in the feedback pedals, organ stops and all sorts of thick, throbbing organ sounds that push through the mix to create a climaxing monster demon sound.
Bizarrely sexual there for a moment. Let’s pause for a breath.
Got your breath back? Good! You shan’t have a chance to do that while listening to this album. From opening “Wonder Woman” to closer “Brain Invasion” you will be barraged by Billy Joel trying to be heavy metal all in a weird, misguided attempt to get your money, your love and, probably, your wife.
I like it.
I wish they had a CD of it so I could show it to people and giggle like the stupid little hipster I am and make hilarious jokes about how bad it is to those who “get” the joke while later sitting at home and head banging to it and screaming “WONDER WOMAAAAAN!” along with Billy with a feeling of semi-shame and semi-joy at sharing such an absurd little ritual with myself.
It didn’t sell well. Can you imagine? The reviews were horrendous and probably a bit deserved when you consider its one of the worst albums ever produced. The cover is amazing: Joel and drummer Somebody Smalls (Derek?) standing in a meat locker dressed like Huns with pissy looks on their faces as if they want to beat you up (and steal your wife out of boredom).
I want it framed on my new apartment wall but I don’t own it.
Joel apparently drank furniture polish and then stole his drummer’s wife after reading the reviews (see, those wife stealing jokes had a point!).
To each his own, I suppose, but the whole furniture polish thing seems extreme. But that’s nothing compared to how he honored his new found wife: with the song “She’s Always a Woman to Me” where he complains about her thieving habits.
Not so nice, Billy considering you got her by thieving. I think she got off easy, though: his next wife, Christie Brinkley got “Uptown Girl” written for her and got the pleasure of staring in the video for that cloying piece of Joel.
How nice for her. And then she had to make “kissy faces” at Real Life Douche Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” I think the universe hates Christie Brinkley or at least balanced her amazing good looks with shitty “acting” jobs.
Anyways, download this album and play it at all birthday parties, thesis readings, funerals, rental stores and during every scene of every porno ever because it’s the best album for annoying people (that still sounds like music) that I’ve ever heard.
Okay that is a bit much but I’m in a mood: my ankle hurts, I’m listening to “Living Thing” and it’s a “given thing” that I’ll write gibberish in such a state! I don’t even know why I reviewed this album when I have so much vodka left to drink.
p.s. I really don’t hate Billy Joel.
Songs to Youtube:
Download this album!
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