The Jefferson Airplane has always been one of my very favorite rock bands of the non-blues — playing, white, American variety, and it has always been my contention that they were perhaps fated to advance what has come to be called rock into yet-unexplored areas in much the same way as the Beatles and Cream have done. This unexplored region, my reasoning went, would involve a kind of broad expansion of the notion of tonality (an area in which rock has done some amazing things), a further development of polyrhythmics in the rhythm section, and of course, more of those tone-cluster vocal harmonies that the combined forces of Balin, Slick, and Kantner were getting so good at.
I ain’t so sure anymore.
The doubts started coming in when Spencer Dryden left his slot as drummer. All the more regrettable was the fact that his reasoning (he was sick of touring, he needed a rest) was so sound. Dryden was one of the very best drummers rock had ever had, so there go the polyrhythms. On the basis of what’s come forth so far (namely, the single of “Mexico” and parts of Kantner’s album). Covington acquits himself well, so maybe that’ll take care of itself. Hot Tuna may very well be taking care of the tonality end (as their next album may help show). but the vocals…
Paul Kantner, I always figured, was a genius stuck (by his own choice) in the background of the Airplane. His songs always seemed to epitomize everything I loved about the group. When I heard that there was a solo album in the works I thought oh boy, now we really get to see something. Well, here it is. Big deal.
If Paul Kantner really thinks that the pap he’s serving up here is a blow against the empire. I suggest that he take a bowl of oatmeal and a spoon and start throwing the oatmeal at some building he’d like to see topple, just to observe how long it takes. What it is is a blow against the sensibilities of anyone who has come to expect reasonably sophisticated music and lyrics (sophisticated for rock lyrics, anyway) from Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Airplane. The music seems to be all based on the “Have You Seen The Saucers” riff, and the lyrics are an odd combination of 1930s pulp utopian science — fiction and some of the more parrot — like underground papers’ political diatribes.
True, there are some flashes of interesting musique concrete; true, there is a perfectly delightful song called “The Baby Tree” (by Rosalie Sorrels—the only one Kantner had nothing to do with except, of course, to sing it); true, the a cappella opening to “Mau Mau (Amerikon)” made me sit bolt upright, but on the whole the album is boring, pretentious, self-indulgent, sophomoric and musically dull. If you want an idea of what it sounds like, take “Have You Seen The Saucers.” take away the heavy electric sound and replace it with a sound dominated by piano and acoustic guitar playing rhythm and stretch it out to mind-numbing lengths. The single says it all, and is available at better department stores everywhere for 88c.
On the other hand, we have The Worst of Jefferson Airplane. Actually, as a greatest hits album, I guess it’s OK. My personal selection for a Jefferson Airplane greatest hits album would involve six LPs plus the single that didn’t make it on to Takes Off and the “Mexico” single, but reduced to one LP, this is as good as it can be. There it is, from “It’s No Secret” (and boy does that still sound good!) to “Volunteers”; that’s the band I loved.
From what’s in the air, there’s gonna be another Hot Tuna album. Maybe, if Marty, who has sat by patiently and watched something he began go wildly out of control (or is it?), doesn’t leave, if all of the various egos involved can remember for a short time that it is a band, i.e., six people working together, that makes it all so good. All I know is I ain’t putting any money on it, either way.