If you wanted to capture the essence of Hawkwind in all their gonzoid space rocking glory, the first thirty seconds of ‘Brainstorm’ is a good place to start. It crashes straight into a body-pummelling, pulse-quickening ur-riff – a thrashed ‘A’ chord with three exclamation marks – which channels both the unstoppable momentum and crushing inertia of interstellar travel. After In Search Of Space’s relatively airy sound, this is a dense, muggy blast of exhaust fumes and amphetamine acceleration. It forces the listener’s head against the metal door to the engine room, where Moorcock’s barbarian spacemen can be heard partying while there’s still fuel to burn.
More prosaically, it sounds like the band have been playing for 24 chemically-enhanced hours, and someone's finally thought to hit the record button. The block riffing and wayward electronics we know, but the rhythm section has gone up a gear: Lemmy’s rumbling, growling bass hammer plus Simon King’s brutal, relentless drum propulsion. If Krautrock’s motorik beat is a cruise-controlled drive down the Autobahn, Hawkwind’s ‘King Beat’ is a lairy foot-to-the-floor dash along an ill-lit B-road. What King lacks in technical finesse he makes up for in sheer physical power.
This heads-down sonic attack is new. The sound may be like black treacle oozing from the speakers, but the attitude is pure punk, down to Turner’s lisping, snotty vocal, craving escape from an oppressive world: “I can’t get no peace ’til I get into motion / Sign my release from this planet’s erosion.” It’s not stoic non-compliance, either – it bursts with passion and anger: “You gotta help me or there’ll be an explosion!” There’s a brilliant call and response bridge – the fear of turning "android" highlighted again – with Lemmy’s gruff shouts of “Body of mine!” counterpointing Turner’s angsty pouting, and the chorus is their punchiest yet. Compare the background ritualistic yodelling and Turner’s hyper-ventilating orgasm with the grunts and screams of a Plant or Gillan: this isn’t climax as an expression of macho sexual conquest, but of union with the cosmos.
“I’m floating away”, trills Turner, his escape to the stars clearly more drug-assisted than rocket-powered. But Brock kicks into warp drive anyway, a militantly minimalist wah-wah solo splurging over the instrumental section, its few notes both regimented but thrillingly amorphous. Meanwhile the FX on the sax are like the gibberings of crazed cosmic beings glimpsed in the rear-view mirror.
It builds to another invocatory space chant, Lemmy and Brock panting, “This is a…!”, Turner answering, “Brainstorm…” in a state of stoned languor. Hawkwind surrender to the flow of their own music, the insistent rhythm a gateway to an altered state of consciousness. But if the earlier incantations and mantras tended towards the shamanic, here there’s a palpable edge of frenzy. After 11 minutes of almost non-stop skin pounding, King finally downs sticks, and ‘Brainstorm’ lumbers off into the distance…