Cosmic Wheels was Donovan's first album in three years to be aimed at mainstream listeners (as opposed to the audience of children and parents for HMS Donovan). For most onlookers, the passage of time meant that this record should have differed considerably from its predecessor, but no one could have expected what was on Cosmic Wheels, at least on side one -- a suppression of all of the flowing lyricism that had been a hallmark of Donovan's previous work. In its place were awkward self-consciously heavy prog rock/hard rock stylings juxtaposed with sound effects, and all woven together in a loud and mostly tuneless and unmemorable first side. Starting with the title track, little of the new-style material worked, and the first six numbers here seem like the musical equivalent of a train wreck in slow motion -- the presence of such notable names as Suzi Quatro and others in the contingent of participating musicians notwithstanding. But the album ended up rescued, or at least partly salvaged, by the acoustic numbers that comprise most of the second side. Overlooking "The Intergalactic Laxative" (the less said about the better), the final third of this record is where any value that it did have, for old listeners at least, resided -- the delightful "Only the Blues" and the ethereal "Appearances," among the most beautiful recordings of his post-'60s career, satisfied longtime fans and could even have earned the artist some new ones, and they keep the record from being a total loss. Fine as they are, they may not be quite worth the effort required to reach them, but their presence comprised the only fully worthwhile moments of what was to be a comeback album -- and as they're not likely to ever turn up on any compilations, their presence ensures that completists and fans will always have to ponder whether to bother owning Cosmic Wheels or not, as opposed to ignoring it completely.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder