Monday, February 23, 2004

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF ALL TIME: # 48

HAWKWIND - Space Ritual dbl LP

I've written about my love for this double set in various places over the years, so I fear I'm repeating myself a little here, but I should explain that this all-time fave - which, if this list was actually in any kind of order, would likely make the grade as a Top 10er - works perfectly on two levels.

Firstly, musically, it's without a doubt TOP ECHELON ROCK'N'ROLL. Originally released in 1973, this live set perfectly fits its point in time: a meeting point between spacey '60s psychedelia a la early Pink Floyd and '77-style aggro UK punk. Yet, you could also say that, along with its brethren of the day (Twink, Pink Fairies, Deviants, various Krautrockers and even the MC5), Hawkwind are the ultimate early '70s anomaly, caught out of time and luck: anarchistic psychedelia for a nation's youth who didn't care a hell of a lot for either anarchy or psychedelia (which isn't to say that Hawkwind didn't have a following in the day; indeed they were a fairly popular "underground" unit). Whatever the case, peak-era Hawkwind were a r'n'r freak circus from hell, spruced up in ludicrous outfits, ham-handed sci-fi babble and touched off with a hint of radical-politik.

Best of all is the actual music. I've said this before and I'll say it again: it may be a fairly bogus cultural reference to make, but it appears to me that "Neil" from "The Young Ones" completely - and falsely - ruined Hawkwind's rep for an entire generation of budding rock fans. By being a smelly, unwashed "hippie" and putting them in the same basket as Genesis, he made two falsehoods to many: that Hawkwind were "progressive rock" and "hippies". Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with being either; after all, the Grateful Dead were filthy hippies and I love them (fuck you, too), and "progressive rock" can mean just about anything, from the uber-cool of Amon Duul to the barrel-scraping nadir of Yes. But anyway, my point is this: Hawkwind never were and never shall be a group of Lilly-livered prog lightweights a la Genesis or whatever other pansified outfit you care to mention, nor were they "groovy space-cadet" hippies hitching a hayride with the toothfairies. They were a GODDAMN STEAMROLLING WHITE-PANTHER GUITAR-DRIVEN DEMOLITION UNIT who, to my mind, are up there with the likes of the Stooges in their ability to pen, perform and execute Rock of the absolute highest and most pure form.

I think it was Joe Carducci who noted that Hawkwind were possibly the loosest, most organic unit the tight-assed nation otherwise known as the UK ever produced. I couldn't've said it better myself. In once sense, Space Ritual sounds almost sloppy. There's no musical "chops" on display (bar maybe Lemmy's bass antics); in fact, it often feels like the band is kind of falling apart, but it's the semi-drugged-out looseness that gives Space Ritual its stamp. No other band since has really sounded like them, as much as some may try, which I guess is testimony to a unique chemistry, one which, unfortunately (due to personnel changes), was not to be repeated by the band itself.

So why else does Space Ritual "work" for me? Sentimental reasons, pure and simple. I was given this double set - actually an original pressing with the fancy fold-out sleeve to ogle for hours - by my then-girlfriend (now my wife, if ya gotta know) in mid 1994 when, in a fit of alcohol-induced stupidity, I broke my leg in a pretty nasty fashion. The details are too embarrassing; suffice to say, I was completely bed-ridden immediately after the accident for roughly two weeks, high on pain killers with a toe-to-groin plaster on my left leg. Not being able to do a hell of a lot of anything for quite a while, the good lady, knowing I was a fan through a recent purchase of their similarly-great Do Re Mi LP from '72, bought a beat-up copy of Space Ritual at a 2nd-hand outlet and dropped it off for me. Maybe I was just high as a kite on morphine, but I can tell you that over the next two weeks, those two slabs of 12" vinyl became somewhat of an obsession for me, as I spun them endlessly in between 5-hour marathons of excruciating daytime TV. That sucker was just about the only thing that kept me sane. Wouldn't you marry a lady who hand-delivered Space Ritual to you when you were sick?

Pros: Hawkwind's high point; a high point of early '70s rock; a high point of rock; a high point of 20th century music. That's all you need to know
Cons: If you consider Hawkwind's shaky post-Space Ritual discography a "con", then I guess there's one for you.
Related releases: Space Ritual's two predecessors are both almost as equally worthy: In Search of Space and Do Re Mi, two scorching studio albums.

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