Saturday, June 6, 2009
K- Paul Kantner / Jefferson Starship - "Blows Against the Empire"
Okay, even though this record has “Jefferson Starship” on it, it’s clearly a Paul Kantner solo album; thus its placing under “K” instead of “J”. So take that.
At the time of this recording, Paul’s home band, Jefferson Airplane, had, for the most part, blown apart. Drummer Spencer Dryden, exhausted & spent, exited stage left. Singer & JA founder Marty Balin, pouting from the loss of leadership of the band he created & unable to talk them into playing any more of his sappy love songs (that is until 5 years later, when “Miracles” became the Jeffersons biggest hit ever), exited stage right. Guitarist & bassist Jorma Koukonen & Jack Casady, focusing on their side project Hot Tuna, were nowhere to be found. Leaving Paul and his then paramour Grace Slick to screw around in the studio with a bunch of musical buddies, a few science fiction novels, and a HELL of a lot of dope to record “Blows Against the Empire”.
I must admit that while I like a lot of the classic JA music (1967-1969), I absolutely abhor their politics. And when I say “their”, I mean Paul’s, because after 1967, the band became his baby, and all of their records until their final breakup in 1972 reflect his vision, which, boiled down, is nothing but stereotypical hippie: just a buncha cats wanting to hang out, get laid, & get high, but THE MAN won’t let ‘em. This, in and of itself, is so generic that it’s almost beneath notice, except that it’s coming from a high rock star. Was this Paul’s way of bonding with the counter-culture? Was it staying "true to his roots" on the "street"? Was it decent marketing? Can’t say. But by this point, he was so hopped up and strung out that he decided to create a whole new fantasy world for himself and those stoned enough to go along; thus, “Blows Against the Empire”.
Paul & Grace play and sing on much of the record, & they recruit other members of their California hippie elite (members of JA, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, and Crosby & Nash) to play. Side one has 4 songs, most of which have 2 or 3 chords played ad nauseum while Paul rants about “Amerika”. “Rant” is a good description of Paul’s vocalizing, because he has no singing voice here AT ALL, just a monotone that makes every song sound the same. The only tune on the album that has a melody is “Baby Tree”, which, coincidentally, is one of only 2 songs Paul had no hand in writing (the other is Grace’s irrelevant “Sunrise”). The first song to make an impression is the third - “Let’s Go Together”, simply because Grace has shown up to add vocals. Granted, she has nothing of consequence to sing, but still sounds much better than Foghorn Kantner. “A Child is Coming” closes out side one & starts out nice, thanks to Grace’s & David “I impregnated a famous lesbian – who’s your daddy? I'M your daddy!” Crosby’s vocals, but 2 minutes of decent harmonizing drifts into 5 minutes of “free associating” that is so dull that I literally fell asleep, waking only when the needle picked up.
Side Two is Paul’s sci-fi epic. Here’s the groundbreaking wildly imaginative storyline: put upon youth, tired of being oppressed by THE MAN, hijack a spaceship and zoom off to a galaxy far far away where they can live their lives the way THEY want to live them, man. And what’s this brave new world’s manifesto, Paul? “Free minds – free bodies – free dope – free music”. Wow, man, far out. Just FAAAAR out. (how much did you charge me for this record now?) You see, Paul, this is why a sleaze like Gene Simmons will always have more integrity than you. He is shameless, but honest. It’s nice to rail against the establishment when you can hide behind your mansion walls and shove buckets of coke up your nose. You want to be a leader in the revolution, but your solution is “abandon ship”. As for being a hippie, as Cpt. Von Trapp might have said, “you’ll never be one of them.” This whole side of music, with the exception of the nice “Have you Seen the Stars Tonight”, goes in one ear and out the other, leaving no trace of anything memorable except the stupid starship noises that pop up in between the songs (whose brilliant idea was it to invite Michael Iceberg?) This record may sound great when you’re out of your mind on dope & speed, but taken straight, it’s a stone drag.
Kantner continued to plug along, recording 2 more JA airplane albums, then reviving the Jefferson Starship name with some old faces and new hacks, leading to a great deal of chart success in the 70’s (mostly due to grumpy Balin’s schlock than Kantner’s increasingly outdated nonsense); the dénouement, resulting in the greatest stake in the heart of Summer of Love, came when Paul got kicked out of the band, then sued them for ownership of the word “Jefferson”….and won (this eventually led to the regrouping of the “classic” JA lineup for the worst reunion album of all time (next to the Monkees’ “Pool It”, of course) whose first blatant nostalgia single was….”Summer of Love”.
Verdict: Paul, in the words of Messrs. McKenzie, take off. And shove it.