Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jefferson Airplane, "Lather" (1968)


People will tell you that the early albums by Jefferson Airplane are good, better than you would expect. As it happens, I am one of those people. And here is one of those songs. There are a surprising number of good ones, not just the hits, on Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing at Baxter's, and Crown of Creation (with the mushroom cloud on the cover), which is the home for this plaintive meditation, so deliberately constructed. By most standards Crown of Creation is a reasonably conventional LP: 11 songs, most in the range of two to four minutes. Grace Slick wrote two of them, including "Lather," Paul Kantner and Marty Balin collaborated on two others, and the rest are by others or other combinations of others (Balin has his name on four, Kantner on three). So a tremendous amount of diverse creative energy applies. As for "Lather," among other things it's an interesting choice for the album kickoff, with fully absorbed '60s politics and values and loudly espousing them (basically, "don't trust anyone over 30" multiplied by "don't ever grow up" multiplied by reality). If this was supposed to be "acid rock," as touted, it didn't sound like anything I expected: mournful mostly, and slow, though full of tricks like typewriter keys and random vocal eruptions for texture, operating on parallel levels. The result is a weird ballad that is nonetheless affecting—not the story, which is a bit trite, but the focus brought to bear in making the music realize the story. In its outrageous way it is understated, and vice versa, and they make that look easy. I think for them it actually might have been easy, at least across those first several albums.

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