Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jefferson Starship

  • Dragon Fly [Grunt, 1974] C+
  • Red Octopus [Grunt, 1975] B-
  • Spitfire [Grunt, 1976] C
  • Flight Log [Grunt, 1977] C+
  • Earth [Grunt, 1978] C
  • Gold [Grunt, 1979] B-
  • Freedom at Point Zero [Grunt, 1979] C-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dragon Fly [Grunt, 1974]
The key cut here is Grace Slick's gnomic "Hyperdrive," in which supertechnology (spirit-powered, perhaps?) cuts through "corners in time." If in 1973 you'd been responsible for Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun (Jefferson Jitney), Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (dead live), and Bodacious D.F. (Marty's party), you'd want to think you'd turned a corner in 1974 yourself. But though this does achieve a slick modernization of their polyvocal sound (Barbata-powered, definitely), with Papa John Creach's fiddle and Craig Chaquico's guitar synthesizing past and future for purposes of metaphor and stage presentation as Marty Balin's cameo contribution links them audibly to their own history, it also proves that you can't get along forever on generalized imprecations against the powerful and invidious oriental-occidental comparisons. C+

Red Octopus [Grunt, 1975]
This is indeed their most significant record of the decade, but what does it signify? It's their first number-one album, but it sells to an audience that refuses to distinguish between production values and musical ideas. While the returned Marty Balin is the most soulful folkie ever to set voice to plastic, he remains a mushbrain--the paragon to whom he addresses "Miracles" is actually compared to both a river and a stringed instrument. And to call "I Want to See Another World" and "There Will Be Love" jive-ass would be to imply that standard-brand American bullshit has style. B-

Spitfire [Grunt, 1976]
I still respect this group, I really do. Their apparently random yet inexorable evolution as a collective entity (not just Grace & Paul Plus) resonates in their deepening textures. They seem to have ideals. You might even say they keep '60s notions of communality alive. Or are they just accommodating '70s notions of corporate identity? They're so vague--they meaning the people, the ideals, and on this album even the textures--that it's hard to tell. Or care. C

Flight Log [Grunt, 1977]
The truism is that their history matched the counterculture's from optimism to visions to anger to dissolution, and this compilation devotes more than a disc to phase four. I really tried to pin down some overarching theme I'd missed at the time, but dissolution seems to be it--not only did they have nothing to say, they didn't have much to say it with. The three Hot Tuna cuts sound fresh and intelligent by comparison, and the '60s stuff--only two repeats from Worst plus a live "Somebody to Love"--is, well, optimistic and visionary and angry. C+

Earth [Grunt, 1978]
This is slightly better than Spitfire (not to mention Baron von Tollbooth) and rather worse than Red Octopus (not to mention Crown of Creation). Its only ambitious lyric seems to equate skateboarding with sex with (male) hubris; its expertness conceals neither schlock nor shtick nor strain of ego. It is leading the nation in FM airplay. C

Gold [Grunt, 1979]
Though their biographies suggest no special expertise in the subject, these aging romantics sing only about love. To put their generation in kinder perspective they encourage young Craig Chaquico to play his stupid guitar. Perennially poignant Marty Balin, now departed once again, dominates this compilation like a matinee idol squeezing another year out of his profile; perennially unpredictable Grace Slick, now also departed, sounds less and less interested in providing point or counterpoint. The music isn't utterly formulaic--from their tight folkie harmonies to their John Creach phase through various oriental mysteries they've cultivated an agreeable exoticism. But it goes nowhere except the bank. B-

Freedom at Point Zero [Grunt, 1979]
Hawkwind-goes-commercial leads off one side, Foreigner-hurries-home the other; both cuts are catchy, both sexist tripe. The rest of the album is a familiar muddle of fixations: space travel, good-time, the deluge, the possession of pretty girls. Personal to Mickey Thomas: ain't nobody gonna boogie to the moons of Saturn. C-

Further Notes:

Meltdown [1980s]

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]