Have you ever watched one of your favorite ballplayers trying to play long past his prime and felt embarrassed for him? Fans of the Jefferson Airplane will feel the same when they hear the seminal San Francisco band’s reunion album after a seventeen-year hiatus.
The idea of re-forming the band clearly mattered to Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, all of whom sound unequivocally committed to their material and performances. The harmonies, the original band’s trademark, return unscathed — at least vocally, Jefferson Airplane soars as in former days.
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Unfortunately, none of the band members has retained a fraction of his or her former talent as a songwriter. The material may be light-years ahead of anything one would expect to hear on a Starship disc, but that’s a false standard.
This reunion album revolves around earnest political ideas that the writers never bother to develop: Kantner’s “Planes” and Slick’s “Freedom” are one-idea platitudes that never advance beyond cliché. And can songs called “Panda” or “Common Market Madrigal” be anything but awkward? Jefferson Airplane still has its heart in the right place, but even the usually reliable Kenny Aronoff, the steadiest of drummers, can’t kick these songs into high gear. Like all sentimental reunions born of desperation, Jefferson Airplane cheapens the memory of a once-great band.