Well, here’s another Jefferson Airplane album, and if you thought the last one had them baked into the mold of an absolutely stereotypic Airplane Sound, you may not even care to hear Long John Silver. It’s not that they aren’t capable of exciting music — the fires that fused albums like Baxter’s and Crown of Creation will burn here, though the years have taken their toll. You can still get your rocks off on the Airplane, and those who thought Bark a bit too low-key and eclectic will be happy to know that Long John Silver mostly consists of one churning vat of fury after another. But the fury has gotten so predictable as to drive you to heights of frenzied indifference. Jorma and Jack are still one of the best lead-bass teams in the business, and the Airplane consistently delivers restless, fulminating songs because they’re always mad about something. We can depend on ’em for that — in this album alone they take on both Christianity and vegetarianism. But their rage and their sarcasm are freelance, and the incredible gaucheness with which they sometimes put them over, combined with Grace’s and Paul’s overbearing pretensions combine to make even the staunchest Airplane fan a bit leery by now.
The packaging of Long John Silver is the first tipoff that the Airplane have lost a lot of what can only be called class. As elaborate as Bark, the box-jacket lies on the same level of puerility as Cheech and Chong’s dope jokes — cornball and inane, and the music inside, in its very efforts at profundity, often comes off just as mawkish.
Kantner himself has gotten into a rut, and it wouldn’t even be so bad if he didn’t try to tackle some vast and weighty subject every time out. The night I got this album, I fell asleep on the couch while watching The Dick Van Dyke Show and dreamed that Paul Kantner was Dick Van Dyke and that “Alexander the Medium,” the second to last cut here, was a plate piled high with rotting fish heads, and in every head the eye was staring at me. I wish the cut was that compelling, instead of a typically dull Kantner social-mythic melodrama. Sounding like one of the lesser tracks on Sunfighter, it is the longest song here, and reveals that instead of blasting off into outer space in a wooden starship, the chosen People are going to be walking around under the sea.
“Twilight Double Leader” and “The Son of Jesus” are also super-predictable Kantner stuff. The latter is an exercise in confused mythology calculated to be a mindblowing revelation: “Jesus had a son by Mary Magdalene …” Ah, shaddup.
And if the almost uniform dullness of the songs wasn’t enough, Grace’s singing seems to be slipping drastically. The vocal in “Long John Silver” is off, strained more than usual (though Jack and Jorma are still tusslin’ strong as ever). By the time we reach the last cut, “Eat Starch Mom,” Grace is just delivering a harangue, although the backup is ferociously good and you can certainly dig the sentiments of a song which tells the vegetarians that machines will eat them. In “Easter?,” as in “Eat Starch,” Grace continually lapses into spoken sections of the most melodramatic sort, like: “I thought he said … I could’ve sworn he said it was a sin.” Alice Cooper made stuff like this work in “The Ballad of Dwight Frye,” but the element of burlesque saved all those histrionics — Grace is serious. “Ah, stupid Christian” comes off unbearably self-righteous even to somebody who hates Christianity, and lines like “I think his [the Pope’s] holy story is a mess” and “No more brains in the Christian” are as topically pretentious as anything on the latest John and Yoko album.
Still, the album is not as bad as it might sound. The instrumental work is consistently fine, and Papa John Creach is simply one of the most brilliant, subtle violinists alive. The main problem seems to be the material the musicians are given to work with. There is not one true standout track on this album, and certainly nothing on it as good as the best of Sunfighter or even Blows Against the Empire. Some essential spark is gone, and what remains is a rote scream. But it is the most furious muzak available, and if you’re really stoned it might even seem as good as the old days.