Jefferson Starship

Modern Times

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This second edition of the Mickey Thomas-era Jefferson Starship/Starship polished '80s rock is actually a weird hybrid which you could call psychedelic metal. For fans of the fragments that were Sunfighter, Baron von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun, Manhole, and other experimental Airplane offshoots, this material is much too mainstream for its own good. But it isn't the eminently dislikable Mickey Thomas who is the major culprit as much as it is producer/engineer Ron Nevison, whose homogenization of records from Ozzy Osborne to Heart displayed a glaring lack of creativity, inspiration, or sense of anything remotely resembling art. Yes, Marty Balin actually practiced "Jane" with the group prior to his leaving the Freedom at Point Zero sessions, and had he stayed onboard, the approach may have been a more progressive folk-rock. It was Larry Cox who engineered from Dragon Fly to Spitfire, co-producing the music with the very capable band. Minus Balin and Cox, the true evolution of the Airplane sound is mutated and muffled on Modern Times. Critic William Ruhlmann noted that "Stairway to Cleveland" is "as gutsy a statement of purpose as any in rock," but that tune and the title track, two ofPaul Kantner's three contributions, are the only ones with elements that stay true to the band's original mission. "Stairway to Cleveland" follows the dramatic and techno-orchestrated "Alien," which at least is better than the generic "Free" preceding it, or the second cousin to "Jane," which is "Mary." It means you have to sift through the Mickey Thomas/Ron Nevison sterilization to find the advertised product: Jefferson Starship music. "Mary" is a far cry from what the Jefferson Starship name implies and belonged on a Mickey Thomas solo disc. Rather than continue the natural evolution of the Airplane sound, both "Jane" and its follow-up, "Find Your Way Back," lead off their respective albums and borrow heavily from Foreigner's 1978 hit, "Hot Blooded" (itself a nick of David Bowie's "Jean Genie"). "Find Your Way Back" went Top 30 in the Spring of 1981, and is a decent arena-rocker from the pen of Craig Chaquico that the guitarist sometimes opens his jazz shows with. Considering where Chaquico went after Starship's breakup, a jazzier direction for the group may have been more worthwhile than arena rock and could have had more staying power. The liners proclaim, "And introducing Grace Slick," and that's humor the album needed more of. Slick's presence enhances the LP, Pete Sears and wife Jeannette Sears creating in "Stranger" a precursor to "We Built This City" where Slick and Mickey Thomas blend their voices, but that's the future. Paul Kantner's "Wild Eyes" would work better in the previous settings of "Red Octopus" and "Earth," for here it has that psychedelic metal sound again which is just too overdone to matter to longtime fans of the group. Modern Times was used as an album title by a variety of artists from jazz to folk to country, but despite its moments, this Modern Times, its predecessor Freedom at Point Zero, and its successors, Winds of Change and Nuclear Furniture, became the antithesis of the works of art which are Dragon Fly, Red Octopus, Earth, and Spitfire. Ron Nevison produced three of the four 1980s hard rock albums by this group: draw your own conclusions.

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