A sealed vinyl copy of Blows Against The Empire appeared on my desk recently, which was perfect since I had just finished a ten part Jefferson Airplane album review series.
It is always nice to have classic albums remastered and released in their original vinyl form. Sony/BMG, through their Legacy Series, does an excellent job in selecting essential albums for vinyl reissue. Blows Against The Empire has a crystal clear sound and the packaging is faithful to the original.
1970 found Paul Kantner becoming somewhat tired of the tensions within Jefferson Airplane. In addition, the group members had begun to gravitate toward outside projects. He, with Grace Slick in support, began working on an album that would become Blows Against The Empire. The cream of west coast musicians and some friends would lend their talents to the project. Members of the Grateful Dead including Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash, David Freiberg, Harvey Brooks plus members of the Airplane would all help to bring Kantner’s musical vision to fruition.
The album was a built around a concept that told one of the most creative stories in rock music history. Starships, revolution, an oppressive government, and utopian ideals play out against well crafted psychedelic music. Released just after the sixties ended, in many ways it brought the era of psychedelic music to a close. The album was nominated for science fiction literature’s prestigious Hugo Award; the only rock album to be so honored.
The musicianship is outstanding throughout the album’s ten tracks. Jerry Garcia provides some of the best lead guitar work of his career and his interaction with the piano playing of Grace Slick is not only surprising but provides some of the best rock fusions of those two instruments to have been recorded during that time period.
Songs such as “Let’s Go Together,” “A Child Is Coming,” and “Hijack” are melodic yet advance the story. “Starship,” which brings the album to a close, is a seven minute rock epic. Paul Kantner wrote this song with band mates Grace Slick and Marty Balin and it is superior to just about anything the Jefferson Airplane would produce in the early 1970s and shows what an important component Balin was to the group’s chemistry. In some ways I wish it could have been the final Jefferson Airplane album as it would have allowed the group to go out in style.
Blows Against The Empire remains a wonderful vehicle for Paul Kantner to have presented his political agenda and his views of a utopian lifestyle through the use of rock ‘n’ roll. It is an album that defines a bygone era yet, nearly forty years later, remains an essential and enjoyable listen. The added bonus is that it is available on vinyl again.