By Jo-Ann Greene
‘Aggressive and melodic’
It only became clear in 1979, with the release of those hitherto abandoned January 1978 sessions as the PXR5 album, that Brock and Calvert had been plotting these momentous musical excursions into the future since the winter of ’77.
The glittering “High Rise,” for example, provided the scaffolding for “Micro Man,” while the grandeur of “Infinity”’s lush synths were plushed further into the lavish feel of “Only Ones.” The two sets seem to echo back and forth, the tension found on “Automotion” reflected in the building arpeggios of “Life Form,” the propulsive rhythm of “Uncle Sam’s On Mars” reflecting back to “Psi Power,” the punky edge of “25 Years” found again on “Jack Of Shadows.”
But 25 Years had nothing to equal the aggression of “Death Trap,” while its android alter-ego “Robot,” one of three numbers on the album recorded live, carries much more of a threat, as well as clearly pointing to the future of goth rock. In retrospect, however, perhaps the most inspired song on PXR5 was the title track, a compelling synth-drenched rocker that tightly twines past, present and future, and is as beholden to the band’s own electro-rock past as to the punk, New Wave, and New Romantic future that swirls around it, interweaving snippets of “Hassan” into is sheer brilliance. If any song can be said to sum up Brock’s/Calvert’s vision at the time, it’s this, acknowledging the past and using the present, while moving towards a new future.
But theirs was a dual vision, as Swindells recalls. Like the keyboardist, “Bob also lived in London and was into the whole post-punk/industrial/electro/new-wave scene, but the others lived in the country and were probably more into the space-rock, sci-fi side.”
It was this push and pull between Calvert/Swindells and Brock/et al. that provided the impetus and inspiration to the music, with Swindells bringing a new energy to the mix, and helped create an almost Phil Spector-ish wall of sound that reached an apotheosis onstage on their brilliantly realized and recently released Live ’78 album. “I was pleasantly surprised how fresh and punkadelic we sounded,” Swindells enthuses. “Aggressive and melodic, original and ground-breaking.”
His enthusiasm still severely understates his case. Live, Hawkwinds’ old chestnuts were reborn — “Sonic Attack” an aural assault, “Urban Guerrilla” a wilding punk terrorist, “Brainstorm” a raging fever — while even the recent numbers were thoroughly transformed. From the dizzying spires of “High Rise” to the thundering “Spirit Of The Age”and onto the exuberant crash and bash of “25 Years,” Hawklords unleashed a mighty, fierce sound worthy of their name. The ferocious “Death Trap” was the greatest revelation, as Brock and Swindells exchange lethal volleys of licks and leads while the rhythm section pounds like mortars below.
The entire tour was a roaring success, yet internal tensions led once again to the departure of Calvert, followed by Martin Griffins. PXR5 filled the gap while the remaining members returned to the studio early in ’79 to work on new material.
Unbelievably, Charisma dropped the band. Another major lineup shake-up was underway. A flat-broke Swindells was next out, off to record his solo Fresh Blood album, joined there by King. A very different Hawkwind retook the stage later in the year.