Sound — 6
The mere notion of a new album from Hawkwind in 2016 is a staggering reality with "The Machine Stops," an hour long science fiction concept album inspired by the 1909 E.M. Forster novel of the same name. Hawkwind founder and lead vocalist Dave Brock still stands at the forefront of this innovative space rock group; appropriate considering he led it's formation back in 1969, and is especially quite the achievement as the influential unit has seen future giants such Ginger Baker and the late great Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister pass through its ranks over the years. Hawkwind now stands tall with twenty-six studio records under their belt, yet only some elements of their lengthy longevity surface over the course of "The Machine Stops." While the progressive rock format of their earlier efforts were largely centered around the band's standout use of arcane sound effects, modern technology takes its hold early on with "All Hail the Machine" and "King of the World" with familiar electronica effects taking hold of the ambient rock structure. It gets the job done, sure, and sets "concept record" impression on even the most unfamiliar of listener, however the brash execution comes off as moderately overbearing and modernized for such a vintage collective.
Additional elements of nostalgia rise up with "The Machine," a track which recalls the 1980s art rock and new wave scene with its atmospheric keyboard arrangements, melodic guitars and soaring vocal harmonies. This is a formula which the members of Hawkwind stray close towards over the course of the album's constructed songs (the trippy and winding instrumentals are another story), as evident on the laidback "In My Room." One clear exception is the highlight "Thursday," an elaborate piece which follows the lead of the brief instrumental "Katie" from earlier in the album and sets a relaxed mood propelled by aggressive percussion and attentive electronic arrangements. Other songs like "Synchronized Blue" and "Living on Earth" have this sort of vibe as though they were lost compositions from the early 1970s progressive movement alongside bands like The Animals and Jefferson Airplane, which is especially attributed by the warm vocals from Brock which sound as though they haven't aged a day. While the upbeat "The Harmonic Hall" and the bizarrely titled subsequent instrumental "Yum Yum" should have been left off the record for their absolutely strange execution and lyrics which could have been just as easily penned by a grade school student ("Yum yum yum/ In my tum") and not even considered for inclusion on a rock record, the bulk of Hawkwind's performance throughout "The Machine Stops" relies heavily on nostalgia yet still flourishes with a number of memorable numbers.
Lyrics — 6
Even though lyrically Hawkwind's latest installment has a few moments that leave much to be desired, there has to be a lot of credit given towards mainman Dave Brock for his well preserved range and execution on "The Machine Stops." The 74 year old singer remains in fine form throughout the band's latest offering, hitting moderately high melodies which sit comfortably among their often ambient surroundings. Stopping just doesn't seem to be an option for this veteran frontman.
Overall Impression — 6
While it isn't a resounding studio performance, Hawkwind stand strong with their 26th studio performance "The Machine Stops." The band proves their abilities to craft relaxed and often stretched out space rock crafted with ample amounts of melodic vocals, massive synthesizer work and choice complimentary guitar playing. The decision to include some filler and the attraction of modern electronica are the main downsides in an otherwise regularly rewarding listen from one of the pioneers of prog.