C. Barrett | 08/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Peter Wolf who worked with JS on this CD is NOT the same guy from the J. Geils Band. Come on people, haven't you figured that out already? It's only been 21 years since this came out."
Still cruising, but destabilizing in flight
R. Josef | New Haven, CT United States | 11/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"For better or worse, the Jefferson Airplane/Starship were democratic bands, giving room for a lot of band members to have their say in songwriting. When everyone was more or less on the same page, fans would get diverse yet cohesive albums such as "Surrealstic Pillow", "Volunteers", "Dragonfly" or "Freedom at Point Zero". When they weren't, however, you ended up with disjointed works like "Spitfire" or the disastrous "Bark."
This album, the eighth from the Starship, is somewhere in the middle. By this time, the band had four separate factions of songwriters: rhythm guitarist/vocalist Paul Kantner's sci-fi/fantasy visions; singer Grace Slick, solo or with outsiders; bassist/keyboardist Pete Sears, providing music to his wife Jeanette's lyrics; and the pair-up of singer Mickey Thomas and lead guitarist Craig Chaquico.
This could have been very messy, but the band made the smart decision to bring back producer Ron Nevison, who had worked on the group's first two albums with Thomas as well as Grace's most recent solo album, "Software". Nevison also brought along Grace's songwriting partner from that album, Austrian keyboardist Peter Wolf.
Wolf provided most of the keyboard parts and arrangements to the album, which results in a signficant change in the JS sound. On "Freedom at Point Zero" and "Modern Times", Nevison let the guitars dominate, with keyboards in a support role. Here, Wolf's synthesizers are on an equal footing with the guitars in the mix. Combining this with new drummer Donny Baldwin's more basic rhythms and some drum machines, we have a slicker, more "80's" sound from the group.
That's not all bad, because it lends a coherence that might have otherwise been missing from the album. For instance, even so, the Searses' songs are all over the place. "Sorry Me, Sorry You" is a bouncy synth-popper that sounds like the Moody Blues' "Gemini Dream", even down to the duet vocals of Slick and Thomas. On the other hand, the spooky synth and booming percussion of "Live and Let Live" are remniscent of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight". Thomas pulls out his best vocal of the album for it, though. Finally, the creeping "Assassin" is Pete's best musical idea, but the trite lyrics undercut it.
Craig and Mickey continue down the generic arena rock path. "Shining in the Moonlight" is a rather blatant rewrite of the hit "Find Your Way Back". "Laying it On the Line" is better, a rousing rocker with some interesting political lyrics.
Grace contributions are stronger then they had been on the previous "Winds of Change" album. She provided the lyrics to Wolf's "Magician", another cute, upbeat synth-pop song. On the opposite end of the spectrum, her solo composition "Showdown" is a dark vision of nuclear war, with the ghostly synths and percussion effectively adding to the atmosphere.
Kantner's tracks are by far the most ambitious. The bizarre, lenghty "Connection" seems to about modern humans reconnecting to caveman roots, or post-apocalyptic primitives remembering pre-war civilization (or something), ending up with a lyrical plea from Thomas for Christian and Muslims to make peace. It rambles musically, but it does work anyway. Finally, "Rose Goes to Yale" and "Champion" form a two part suite, reviving "Freedom.."'s Lightning Rose character as a symbol of the human determination to go on in the face of nuclear devastation. Again, a typically Paul weird combo of sci-fi and 60's radical ranting.
Finally, there's one outside composition. Wolf and his wife Ina contributed "No Way Out", a synth-dominated ballad that sounds like nothing the Starship had yet recorded. Its sound, like Marty Balin's "Miracles" before it, would redefine the band's sound to come for better or for worse.
Paul was unhappy enough with the album to jump ship during the tour,
resulting in lot of changes. Despite some of the songs being sort of generic, there's enough vestiges of the original "Jefferson" sound along with the new 80's "Starship" sound to please both camps of fans. This makes it an improvement over the previous two, although "Freedom at Point Zero" should be the first choice of the Thomas-era albums. Really old line Airplane fans, though, better look elsewhere."