[Review] Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship: Blows Against The Empire (1970)

You’ve just volunteered for an all-star interstellar trip. Enjoy the ride…

Kronomyth 1.0: The mothership of all sci-fi concept albums.

Jefferson Airplane took some time off to refuel after Volunteers. Paul Kantner and Grace Slick used the break to release a revolutionary science fiction concept album, Blows Against The Empire. Featuring cameos from various Airplane members, David Crosby, Graham Nash and three-fifths of the Grateful Dead, Blows was an all-star interstellar trip that suggested “The House at Pooneil Corner” on a grander cosmic scale.

Kanter and Slick were expecting their first child, an event plainly referenced on “A Child Is Coming,” and the idea of a new generation of revolutionaries seems to have inspired Kantner to write his own musical manifesto for the future. Blows is a brilliant album, even as it’s an overblown middle finger to the establishment much of the time. The transition from the opening call to arms, “Mau Mau (Amerikon),” to the disarming “The Baby Tree,” is genius. In those two songs, Kantner manages to paint a vivid new Utopia and then poke holes in his own Utopia moments later. Slick provides an equally brilliant brushstroke with the beautiful distortion of “Sunrise,” a song that anticipates the alien soundscapes of prog electronica by several years.

Blows will feel familiar to anyone who has waded through Kantner’s recent works. “Lets Go Together” isn’t different in spirit than “We Can Be Together” and makes a reference to “wooden ships” in the lyrics. But there’s the sense on this album that Kantner is finally free to make the kind of music he wanted to; when he sings on “Hijack” that “People with a clever plan can assume the role of the mighty and hijack the starship,” he might as well be singing about himself. As the culmination of Kanter’s science fiction short stories into a longer conceptual work, Airplane riders will definitely want to check this one out. Despite charting well on its release, Blows Against The Empire didn’t contain a hit single, and so the album has faded from memory over the years. It is well worth a dusting off, particularly if you’re still carrying a torch for the Airplane’s pop polemics.

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Original LP Version

A1. Mau Mau (Amerikon) (Paul Kantner/Grace Slick/Joey Covington) (6:35)
A2. The Baby Tree (Rosalie Sorrells) (1:42)
A3. Lets Go Together (Paul Kantner) (4:11)
A4. A Child Is Coming (Paul Kantner/Grace Slick/David Crosby) (6:15)
B1. Sunrise (Grace Slick) (1:54)
B2. Hijack (Paul Kantner/Grace Slick/Marty Balin/Gary Blackman) (8:18)
B3. Home (Paul Kantner/Phil Sawyer/Graham Nash) (0:37)
B4. Have You Seen The Stars Tonite (Paul Kantner/David Crosby) (3:42)
B5. X-M (Paul Kantner/Phil Sawyer/Jerry Garcia/Mickey Hart) (1:22)
B6. Starship (Paul Kantner/Grace Slick/Marty Balin/Gary Blackman) (7:07)

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Lets Go Together (alternate lyrics)
12. Sunrise (acoustic demo)
13. Hijack (acoustic demo)
14. SFX
15. Starship (live)

The Players

Paul Kantner (vocals, guitars, banjo, bass machine), Grace Slick (vocals, piano) with Harvey Brooks (bass on B6), Jack Casady (bass on A4/B1), Joey Covington (drums and vocals on A1, congas on B2), David Crosby (vocals and guitar on A4/B4, backing vocals on A1/B6), David Freiberg (backing vocals on B6), Jerry Garcia (banjo on A3, pedal steel guitar on B4, sound effects/vocals on B5, lead guitar on B6), Mickey Hart (percussion on B4, sound effects/vocals on B5), Peter Kaukonen (lead guitar on A1), Bill Kreutzmann (drums on A3), Graham Nash (congas on B2, sound effects on B3, backing vocals on B6), Phil Sawyer (sound effects on B3/B5). Produced by Paul Kantner; engineered by Allen Zentz, Pat Ieraci (Mauriceman, master of the machines, sir real, master of the razor-lazer), Graham Nash, David Crosby, Phil Sawyer, Bob Shoemaker.

The Pictures

Cover by CCCP. Books by Patti Landres. Space by Jim Goldberg. Design by Paul Kantner/Jim Goldberg. All the work by Jim Goldberg. Title by Tony Nagamuma.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in November 1970 in the US (RCA, LSP-4448) {orange label} and in 1971 in the UK (RCA Victor, SF-8163) with lyrics booklet and gatefold cover; reached #20 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (RCA, LSP-4448) {black label} with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in Japan (RCA, PG-116).
  3. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2005 in the US (RCA) with 5 bonus tracks.

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