Hawkwind’s New Album is Their Best in a Generation

Taking a deep dive into The Future Never Waits

Hawkwind (Image: Spotify)

The Future Never Waits, Hawkwind’s 35th (!) studio album, is a magical punk-trance ASMR experience, an interplanetary ride in a spiky spa.

It is, amazingly, Hawkwind’s best studio album in a generation, and, arguably, their best since the mid-1970s.  

Very, very few legacy rock acts release music so good that even someone completely unfamiliar with that act could become a fan, JUST on the basis of a new album. I mean, who else can pull that off? I can think of three living artists: Wire, Bob Dylan…and Hawkwind. The Future Never Waits is that good. I am awed, but not necessarily surprised: the live album Hawkwind released last year, We Are Looking In On You, showcased a fierce, revitalized, magically powerful band still actively engaged in investigation and reinvention, and clearly forecast that Hawkwind circa 2022/2023 was going to be a force to be reckoned with. 

Because Hawkwind, who have been at it for 54 years, have released so much music (35 studio albums, 13 live albums, and 17 significant compilations, not to mention literal shopping carts full of semi-legit live releases and comps), sometimes people just attend to the mind-blowing, profoundly original and influential work they did in the early/mid 1970s and call it a day. (This is especially true in America, where they remain a cult, as opposed to Britain, where Hawkwind are a legend and a lifestyle.) But that would be a grave mistake, because with both We Are Looking In On You and The Future Never Waits, Hawkwind are reaching another peak. 

Hawkwind The Future Never Waits, Cherry Red 2023

The Future Never Waits is a strange yet seductive record, an experience in the old-fashioned front-to-back sense, full of depth, dynamite, rocket full, absinthe, moon dust and mystery. Underneath it all is Hawkwind’s penchant for hypnoptic repetition, but within a framework that could seduce the fan of Radiohead or Fu Manchu, Black Sabbath or Black Flag, Can or Moby. Like the aurora borealis set to a soundtrack of Stereolab tripping out orgiastically in a Berlin dance club, The Future Never Waits is utterly, hypnotically insistent yet full of rich, delicate, unexpected subtleties. The Future Never Waits is stately, nodding yet engaging, windswept and ripe with city shadows and the cool stones of ancient stele…yet somehow also what a ’77 Punk might dream while drifting out on opium while one roommate plays Jean Michel Jarre and the other plays Blue Öyster Cult. (Uh-huh.)   

Oh, a quick word about “who” is Hawkwind right now, which in a way doesn’t matter, because Hawkwind ‘23 sounds utterly fresh, completely un-shadowed by the considerable legacy of being the world’s greatest space rock and jam band; and Hawkwind ‘23 is still immediately identifiable as Hawkwind, even if the band somehow sound new. The current crew (and if we are counting, Wikipedia lists 42 members over the band’s 54 year history) is vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Dave Brock, who will be 82 in August, and is the band’s only constant member (yes, I know he missed a couple of gigs in 1977); Richard Chadwick, who has drummed for Hawkwind since 1988; Magnus Martin, guitarist/violist/keyboards since 2016; and new-ish recruits Douglas McKinnon (bass) and Timothy “Thighpaulsandra” Lewis on synths/keys/atmospherics, both of whom joined up in 2021. 

But back to The Future Never Waits: You know you are on an amazing voyage from the very beginning. The album opens with a ten-minute plus instrumental title track, which isn’t just a mood setter, but a reminder that Hawkwind ’23 blends the twinkling yet foreboding ambience of the Spa on the Space Lusitania with a persistent, speedy/slow dive-bombing hypno-loop bass; it’s a statement of purpose that says, never go easy, never completely relax, even when in the sauna. “The Future Never Waits” (the song) has elements of gamelan, whales being strangled by serial killers with Roedelius on their earbuds,  techno chill, and William Orbit being chased by the thought police, and frankly, it blows my mind, as it progresses through various scenes from the age of Hawkwind: needleguns disguised as ambient music, the blips of a lost Sputnik, a bass lost in the fog that could be Lemmy doing Wobble, even a whisp of jangle guitar; the whole experience sounds like that moment when you can’t tell if the sun has risen or not, neurotic beauty. This segues into the rising, crunching guitar riff of “The End,” which, perhaps intentionally, slightly echoes 1974’s “You Better Believe It.” In front of the riff is a hugely poppy, lilting vocal, and “The End” is perhaps best described as the Barracudas and Robyn Hitchcock collaborating with The Professionals (in fact, Brock has never sounded as Steve Jones-esque as he does here). 

As this album winds and slams and slurps and skis and sails and screams through ten tracks – five of which are over eight minutes long — you are reminded that when Hawkwind are at their best, you can’t put your finger on them: more than anything, Hawkwind are the band you might have dreamed, before you knew what rock music actually was, and you hoped it sounded something like the refrigerator humming while you put your head out the car window while you sang playground songs. With Hawkwind, especially when they are this good, you just need to lie back and imagine you are chasing that damn gong around, as Cab Calloway might say, because you are on a trip, and The Future Never Waits is one of Hawkwind’s most consistent and rewarding, ever. 

I could fall into fiery ball-pit of faux-Blakean adjectives and ludicrous metaphors trying to describe the sound and songs of The Future Never Waits; suffice to say that sometimes Hawkwind flies like a confident and heavily dosed space eagle soaring through a rainbow that’s emerged over the smoky coal fires of some northern English satanic mill, and sometimes it’s just the blue blanket of watery death masked as hope and hope masked as death. Likewise, because I legitimately love every track on this album – it really is that kind of record – it’s hard not to describe each moment of the The Future Never Waits experience. But don’t worry, I won’t, so let me just quickly hit a few spots on this trance punk twister pad: “And The Beginning,” might be Hawkwind’s best multi-scene rave-up since Gerald Ford was President; “Rama,” with a soaring, deeply hooky melody over an insistent Tom Scholz-via-Steve Jones riff, is classic Hawkwind in the mode of “Right to Decide” or “You Better Believe It”; “I’m Learning to Love Today” (with its mantra vocal and gentle, repetitive riff that echoes Hawkwind’s highest, most mesmeric moments) and the gorgeous, compact, Supertramp-via-Soft Boys sleepy high pop of “Trapped In This Modern Age” are two of Hawkwind’s best recordings in a generation; and there’s a lot more, too, but I have likely already numbed you to the point of brainbox defenestration with all these goddamn adjectives and comparisons. Let’s just say this, okay: The Future Never Waits is Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition in Space, and it’s fucking marvelous. 

Hawkwind will be playing Hall for Cornwall on June 16th (Image: Hawkwind)

Frankly, it’s magical and highly fucking newsworthy that an act with this much history are functioning at this high a level. I must imagine at least some of the credit goes to Tim “Thighpaulsandra” Lewis, a multi-instrumentalist (though I think he’s mostly on keyboard/synthy type things here) who joined Hawkwind in 2021 and makes his studio debut on this new album. Thighpaulsandra, who has also collaborated with (amongst others) Coil, Spiritualized, Julian Cope and Wire (as well as the Wire spin-off UUUU), simply “gets” Hawkwind; his mix of antagonistics and atmospherics references the spatial, spitting, scratching and soaring paintbox the band has used throughout the past half century (the synth seat in Hawkwind has never really been about traditional key-craft, but is more of a sound design/light an’ magic role), but Thighpaulsandra very much claims it as his own. It’s difficult to describe how key he is here and on 2022’s live Looking in on You: He’s a rainmaker, a shaman, the man who holds the magic lantern. In Thighpaulsandra, Dave Brock appears to have found yet another “essential” Hawkwind catalyst, a definitive sonic artist/assassin and collaborator. 

The Future Never Waits is likely my favorite Hawkwind studio work since the heights of Electric Teepee, The Business Trip and Space Bandits in the early 1990s; and I’d like to give it some time, but it’s wholly possible that I prefer it to any of those albums, largely because the whole second side of The Future Never Waits is a triumph of mesmeric spacerock that I would hold up against anything, and I mean anything, the band has ever done, live or in the studio. And as much as I loathe the phrase “return to form,” The Future Never Waits is truly a return to form, and more. (And I liked 2021’s Somnia and 2019’s All Aboard the Skylark, and really liked 2020’s Carnivorous.) But The Future Never Waits is in an entirely different class from the most recent brace of studio albums; it’s not merely a good Hawkwind album with the requisite highs and lows to be expected of any act in its’ 7th decade; it’s a great Hawkwind album that needs no explaining or apologies whatsoever.

The Future Never Waits is an amazing achievement, for fan or newbie alike, and we once again note: Hawkwind, a band birthed the same year Richard Nixon took the oath of office, have not only made one of their best works, but one of the year’s best albums.  

 

 

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Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYU DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He is the author of Only Wanna Be with You: The Inside Story of Hootie & the Blowfish and has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Learn more at Tim Sommer Writing.

One thought on “Hawkwind’s New Album is Their Best in a Generation

  • May 23, 2023 at 1:59 pm
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    Why don’t you tell us what you really think Tim? !
    Seriously though, it really is a great album. Now it’s time for you to open up the contacts list and get someone to put them onto the headlining slot of an American festival.

    Reply

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