Emergency Broadcast System 1994-1997 / Atomhenge 2018
Lean and mean era of eternity-embracing space assassins who faced misfortune with their guns blazing, if sometimes misfiring.
One would assume it was going to be the ’80s to endanger the agenda of HAWKWIND yet, with their grip on synthesizers, the group persevered, only to lose their course, to an extent, in the ’90s. This box set is a memorable testament to the collective’s struggle: four albums on five discs, in replica LP sleeves, with neither bonus numbers that previously accompanied the separate CDs nor a booklet to add context to the period’s anthology, here’s an undiluted experience – uneven but essential for understanding the prog institution’s convoluted path.
They used to be a seven-strong ensemble but, slimmed down to a trio – a feat to be reprised as a spin-off project almost two decades later – the band had to exert a “take no prisoners” approach, and that’s why “The Business Trip” is so captivating. Going for deeper, rather than lighter, readings of mostly rare tracks, this recording barely betrays the album’s on-stage provenance simply because there’s new placement for the songs from the past, and not for nothing a few of them appear under unfamiliar titles. Even those that seem recognizable were changed, the initially slow, serious take on “Quark, Strangeness And Charm” revealing a real spark behind its own characteristics in a spectral, although thick, throb of Dave Brock’s raygun guitar and Alan Davey’s mighty bass and their vocal harmonies, while “Green Finned Demon” feels as reflectively translucent as the ever-expansive classic ‘”Void Of Golden Light” is. The organ-oiled “LSD” may be more manic, yet it’s always great to hear the group descend from space and get to a rock ‘n’ roll grind before going into raggamuffin for “The Camera That Could Lie” – the only reference to "It Is The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous" they were promoting at the time – and falling into psyched-up groove for the tribal dance of “Do That” which Richard Chadwick’s drums drive beyond the original suggestion to where the threesome rumble through Robert Calvert’s solo cut “The Right Stuff” as if to validate their new direction.
Despite its definitive slant, “The Dream Has Ended” will lead “You Know You’re Only Dreaming” somewhere else but, stripped of its erstwhile iron jacket and enveloped in an almost orchestral wave, “The Dream Goes On” would be turned into a frantic “Are You Losing Your Mind?” on 1995’s “Alien 4” whose finale also houses fresh, and quite scorching, interpretation of “Death Trap” that has new singer Ron Tree updating the half-forgotten belter. Of course, there’s a link to the famous film franchise on the record, theatrical spoken word wrapped in electronica and the jolly “Xenomorph” making it more than clear, and a slight concept line, yet the lysergic types of “Alien (I Am)” possess enough gloss to be alluring on their own, mainly thanks to Brock’s six-string acrobatics, albeit the many personas of hysterical “Beam Me Up” are spectacular in their own way. With Davey providing dub profundity for “Journey” and the raw disco of “Festivals” bringing the Glastonbury ghost into present tense, the album was strong enough to warrant a stage life to most of these tracks. as documented on "Love In Space" from the following year.
Much more expansive, and true to the ensemble’s spirit, than its trio-centric, purposeful live predecessor, this double album has no desirable edge even to a new track “Robot” as Tree doesn’t possess a voice charisma, whereas his colleagues are too relaxed to properly focus their sonic attack. There are many wonderful instrumental passages, still, involving both Brock and Davey on keyboards and including mesmerizing “Assassins” (aka “Hassan-i Sabbah”) yet the record’s reliance on fresh material renders pieces like “Blue Skin” quite pale. Anyway, the perennial “Silver Machine” can’t ever lose traction, and prog epic “Sputnik Stan” hides some great rock ‘n’ roll moves in it – to contrast the emotion-emitting title track whose wordless studio version would appear on “Distant Horizons” in 1997. Even with a second guitarist joining in on the record, the reinforced line-up was weak in Alan’s eyes, and he quit leaving bass duties to Ron, which resulted in fairly shallow cuts such as “Population Overload” that, dipped in electronica and Caribbean jive, resort to a different, down-to-earth, rather than spaced-out, sort of noise. As a result, the heavy, metallic “Phetamine Street” and FX-spiked “Wheels” feel righteously delirious until their repetitive clang gets on the listener’s nerves, as does “Waimea Canyon Drive” – devoid of drive and lackadaisical to the point of apathy – unlike the Middle Eastern motif of “Alchemy” and the sparse “Clouded Vision” with its equally hypnotic rifferama.
The magic was still there but it got dimmed, and it would require HAWKWIND twenty years to get back on track; the ’90s had to be lived through, though, for the group’s eventual resurrection.