Wednesday, June 15, 2011
After Bathing at Baxter's - Jefferson Airplane
After Bathing At Baxter's
The third Jefferson Airplane album. I bought this while I was in high school. The only other Airplane album I owned was the "Flight Log" comp although I had access to my step-mom's copy of "Surrealistic Pillow." Neither of these really prepared me for the cornucopia of psychedelic delights that awaited me on this album. It quickly became and remains my favorite Airplane album although not too many people share my opinion about it. It is a landmark album for the group in many respects. It marks a break from commercial rock in favor of free form heavy rock and it also marks the point where Paul Kantner took control of the group from Marty Balin. Kantner wrote more than half of the album while Balin merely shares credit on a single song. My favorite song however is by Grace Slick, "rejoyce" which is her reworking of James Joyce's novel "Ulysses." The song has the same relationship to "Ulysses" that "White Rabbit" does to "Alice In Wonderland." Slick takes the characters and events of the book and gives them her own spin. I suppose you could argue that the song is pretentious and even a cynical attempt to replicate the success of "White Rabbit" and you might be right, but I still think it is a great song. The emphasis on rebellion, sexual frustration, bodily functions, anti-war sentiment are all consistent with Slick's songwriting vision and the music is extraordinary - piano driven with Jack Casady's bass rumbling underneath and Slick's recorder for exotic instrumental color, this swirling hallucinogenic masterpiece is Slick's greatest musical moment. There isn't another Airplane song like it, heck there are hardly any rock songs period that are like it. It blends jazz, eastern music and rock brilliantly, a true synthesis. Another unusual and interesting element on this record is that the songs flow into one another with generally seamless segues. I believe this is one of the first rock records to be programmed this way, since it predates "We're Only In it For The Money," "The Who Sell Out," "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" and "Abbey Road." The record is divided into five suites: "Streetmasse," "The War Is Over," "Hymn To An Older Generation," "How Suite It Is" and "Schizoforest Love Suite." I don't think the songs are really connected thematically, but I like the flow of them, I think their juxtaposition gives them extra resonance just like the suite on "Abbey Road" did. The record begins with the distorted roar of electric guitars and a blast of hard rock with Kantner's "Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil" which appears to have been written while he was tripping since it has some of the most psychedelic lyrics I've ever heard. I love it. The ensemble singing by Slick, Kantner and Balin is just breathtaking. It is followed by a brief shot of self-indulgent nonsense with the cleverly titled "A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly" which is a jazzy and sporadically amusing instrumental. The Kantner/Balin collaboration "Young Girl Sunday Blues" fuses Balin's romanticism with Kantner's psychedelicism with great success. It boasts another set of evocative lyrics with a tune that feels like a sunny day in the park. "Martha" is a quiet song with more trippy, but lovely lyrics and some very melodic bass playing from Casady. It segues directly into the electric roar of "Wild Tyme (H)." It is a thunderous song with some great guitar playing from Jorma Kaukonen over exuberant lyrics celebrating freedom and change, it is one of the best expressions of the philosophy behind the Summer of Love that I've ever heard. Kaukonen's "The Last Wall of the Castle" sounds like it should be about revolution, but it is actually about a romantic relationship. It is a very propulsive song with a lot of dynamic guitar work, Kaukonen's guitar howls like a cat in heat. This frenzy resolves into the hypnotic allure of "rejoyce" to end the best side of vinyl in the Airplane canon. Side two opens with "Watch Her Ride" which is another trippy love song from Kantner. It is one of the more conventional songs on the record and has a nice sunny feel to it. "Spare Chaynge" comes next and how you feel about this song will probably determine a lot about how you feel about this album. It is a 9 minute instrumental jam between Casady, Kaukonen and Spencer Dryden and if you hate jams, well it may seem like "Revolution No. 9" to you. I'm a huge Jack Casady fan, I think he's a genius and I love everything he plays. For me this jam is wonderful, I just eat it up. Casady's playing is truly inspired, Jorma can barely keep up with him. Slick's "Two Heads" comes next and it is classic Gracie. Hallucinogenic and sardonic at the same time, it is full of wonderful imagery and biting lines, along with a killer riff. The album ends with the magnificent "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon." The Airplane was justly celebrated for the incredible power of its vocalists and I would argue that this is the greatest example of their ability. The triple vocal is outstanding, it soars and delivers a message of psychedelic bliss with extraordinary force and beauty. It is a brilliant climax to a truly great album. Lyrically and musically, this is the quintessential psychedelic record, rivaled only by the 13th Floor Elevators' "Easter Everywhere." I consider it one of the great albums in the history of American popular music. Recommended for people who want to experience the Summer of Love, "yellow clouds rising in the noon, acid, incense and balloons." Won't you try?