There is an old saying that you can never go home again. While the Jefferson Airplane would give it a valiant try on their 1989 reunion album, it quickly became apparent that the psychedelic world of the late 1960’s was long gone.
The Jefferson Airplane had not issued a studio album in seventeen years and the members of the group had gone in different directions. Paul Kantner and Grace Slick had been involved with the Jefferson Starship. Grace had managed to release four solo albums as well. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were recording and touring as Hot Tuna. Marty Balin had joined the Starship for several years and then released a self titled solo album which had produced two hit singles, “Hearts” and “Atlanta Lady.” He even produced a rock opera called Rock Justice, which quickly disappeared into the musical abyss.
The seeds of the reunion were sown in 1986 when Kantner, Balin, and Casady had released an album under the name of the KBC Band. 1989 found all of them in the studio recording new material at the same time. Only Spencer Dryden was missing as Paul Kantner and he had fallen out. They even managed to tour in support of the album. That tour was a commercial and critical success which was mainly due to the fact that they played their older and superior material.
Their self titled reunion album, Jefferson Airplane, was released August 22, 1989. It turned out to be an uneven release with some very good and some very average songs. Looking back, the group could probably have never satisfied the expectations of their fans given their sixties legacy. Still the musicianship throughout the album is excellent, although there is not enough Jack Casady. The vocal harmonies of Slick, Balin, and Kantner are intact and give a glimpse of their stellar past.
If all the tracks had been of the quality of Paul Kantner's album opening blast it would have been memorable indeed. “Planes” roars out of the gate and rocks like the Airplane of old. It was a deservedly successful single. On the other hand his “The Wheel (For Nora and Nicaragua)” is extremely dated today and was a little so at the time of its release. This six minute song/poem was a vehicle for Kantner to push his political views. It is a difficult listen.
Jorma Kaukonen produces one excellent track and a couple of average ones. “Upfront Blues” and “Too Many Years” quickly fade into the background, but “Ice Age” is a superior performance and remains part of Hot Tuna’s stage act twenty years later.
“Freedom” is the best of the Grace Slick songs as she is still in good vocal form. But “Panda” is her self indulgent gift to that endangered animal. I guess I care about pandas, but I wanted to hear the tough Grace Slick who rocks here.
I wish Marty Balin had been more active. His vocals throughout are fine, but his major contribution, “Summer Of Love,” has the feel of a Jefferson Starship pop track.
Jefferson Airplane was an acceptable release at the time but has not held up well as there are so many better albums to explore in their catalog. In the final analysis it's OK. It's just not great.