Initial Thoughts on Hawkwind’s Quark, Strangeness and Charm

Quark, Strangeness & Charm is Hawkwind’s first album after a big shakeup in the band – one of the drummers (Alan Powell), and the vocalist, saxophonist, and flutist Nik Turner were out, and bassist Paul Rudolph had been replaced by Adrian Shaw (and Lemmy had left well before this). It’s also the second of the Hawkwind albums that were included in Record Store Day a while back.

This album is a mixed bag. The vocals are, as was with the previous live album, pretty ehh. They’re not trying to do much, and they succeed in the attempt. It makes the vocalse much more along the lines of poetry with musical accompaniment – which is fine. Or, it would be fine if the poetry was solid – but instead the poetry is kind of mixed.

As an example – “Spirit of the Age” – the first track of the album – has the starfaring narrator bemoaning the fact that his underage girlfriend didn’t go into stais before he left, so now he’s upset that his robot girlfriend – made in her (again, underage) image says someone else’s name when she orgasms. Ew. There’s also “Hassan I Sahba” which is implied to be a commentary on then-nascent Islamic extremism and the rise of petro-states, but it just comes across as racist. An alternate track on the Record Store Day vinyl release (which is what I listened to) puts an addendum to the title track titled “Uncle Sam’s On Mars.” This track is, basically, a reworked version of “Whitey On The Moon”, except with all the themes about systemic racial prejudice being removed, and shifting the tone to “American Imperial Hegemony” being blunted by the fact that the track is being performed by a bunch of white British people. This is aggravated by no acknowledgment or other credit being given to Gil Scott-Heron.

That said, the rest of the album is solid. “Damnation Alley” is a post-nuclear elegy inspired by Roger Zelazney novel. “Quark, Strangeness & Charm” has some Adam Ant-glam braggadocio based around embracing quantum mechanics, or rather wordplay related to that.”Days of the Underground” feels the most personal of the songs, painting Hawkmoon and their psychedelic peers as prog rock outlaws, still fighting the good fight while others have dropped out.

All of that said, this is an album that is much more focused on the lyrics, with the instrumentation taking a back seat. The changes in the band’s lineup is likely a part of that – as the band is probably feeling out what they can do.

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