Monday, 11 July 2016
It's here! The Alan's Album Archives puzzle none of you have probably been waiting for, but which might fill in time in between reviews and/or the next Neil Young album comes out (get a move on Neil, it's been - what - a whole month now since the last one?) Some of our older readers may well remember it from the last time four or five years ago, but as we've written the equivalent of at least four editions of War and Peace since then we thought it was time we revised expanded and exfoliated it with (slightly) easier clues and (hopefully) more chance of someone actually completing it this time around. Sadly this link won't be around forever so catch it while you can! And please no cross words for our cross word - it's only a bit of fun and if you get really stuck you can always cheat by looking at the answer page listed at the bottom. Let us know if you want another puzzle and what form you want it to take. Good luck!
You can buy 'Wild Thyme - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Jefferson Airplane/Starship' by clicking here!
Jefferson Starship "Winds Of Change" (1982)
Winds Of Change/Keep On Dreamin'/Be My Lady/I Will Stay/Out Of Control//Can't Find Love/Black Widow/I Came Back From The Jaws Of The Dragon/Quit Wasting Time
'They give you a moment of sweet sweet peace - and you become so happy they all send you to jail!'
Grace Slick makes everything better. There isn't an album around that wouldn't be improved for her presence - though she may be a bit loud for Art Garfunkel's whispered treat 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' thinking about it, surely everything else ever made would benefit from her sarcasm, firepower and, well, grace. Here she is, four years on from being kicked out of the Starship with a drinking habit that would have felled a veteran, lessons learnt thanks to a delicious autobiographical solo LP (1980's 'Dreams') and effortlessly taking back control of the Starship tiller again despite the almighty tug-of-war between old-hand Paul Kantner and newboy Mickey Thomas during her years away. Grace had played things cleverly, turning up to the sessions for 'Modern Times' and offering her services as a backup singer, providing colour to the album sessions without looking for writer's credits, glory or salary. Grace was never going to be content with a back-up role though; she was born to be centre-stage and by 'Winds Of Change' it's as if she's never been away, with every track containing something magical from an on-form Slick whether it be a full lead vocal, a duet counterpart, a harmony tease, a coda or a cackle.
Which is just as well because, in truth, 'Winds Of Change' finds the band in disarray - again - and this album would be pretty empty and worthless without Grace there. This is the third album made by the Starship since the big upheavals of 1978 (when, alongside Grace, they lost lead singer Marty Balin and drummer Johnny Barbata) and already things are beginning to feel slightly formulaic. Paul Kantner's busy crafting the sequel to his classic 'Blows Against The Empire' album of 1971 ('The Empire Blows Back', released in 1983 and whose sessions overlapped quite a bit with this one) and gets just two co-credits, one of them on a song so flimsy you wonder if anyone in the studio ever actually wrote it down. Mickey is all written out after releasing his 1981 solo album 'Alive Alone'. Neither are particularly happy to see Grace back - it still wasn't that long after her split from Paul and Mickey was deeply frustrated at the idea of being pegged as a 'duets' singer (which is ironic given what direction Starship will take in future years - and a little odd given that nobody really thought about Grace 'n' Marty in that way). Tried and trusted husband and wife writing team Pete and Jeanette Sears sound as if they're running slightly short of ideas too after coming out of nowhere to dominate the last two LPs with a number of songs that sound rather like they did the last time round. Drummer Aynsley Dunbar is getting increasingly fed up of the huffy silences of his bandmates and is preparing to quit to re-join Whitesnake (He'll be replaced by Donny Baldwin for the tour and the next album). Once again, founding member David Freiberg's talents are ignored. Only guitarist Craig Chaquico, the band member seemingly most pleased to have Grace back in the band, can match the band's returning prodigal daughter for ideas and eagerly resumes his writing partnership with her.
Traditionally 'Winds Of Change' gets bad reviews from everybody - the people who made it, the people who reviewed it and especially the people who paid good money to listen to it. 'Winds' currently languishes low in the lost of Jefferson family must-haves and ranks a pathetic one-and-one-half stars on 'Allmusic' (to date the only AAA album I've seen get worse is The Beach Boys' 'Summer In Paradise'). It's not hard to see why in some respects: the Airplane used to be famous for their lack of filler (you can't fly high with excess weight after all) and though the Starship were never quite as solid, their albums can usually be relied upon to be half-great (at least until 1978's equally embarrassing 'Earth'). 'Winds' is one of those short-running albums that's a couple of songs short of paradise and where the middle stuff tends to outweigh the good. The lack of Paul (who still gets the single best song on the album) and the move even further away from the band's cult beginnings into heavy metal pop doesn't help matters much with fans either. The basics of music-making (melody, invention, lyrics, ideas) score low.
I can't bring myself to dislike this LP though because the details (the arrangement, the performance, the variety and the production) score so highly. Grace of course beings an extra something to almost everything here (especially the coda to 'Can't Find Love' which is better than the song - and the song's one of the better ones here). But she's not alone: Craig turns in some blistering guitar solos even by his standards that inject life and purpose into these songs. Mickey teases out just enough 'truth' in the Sears' collection of ballads to make them sound heartfelt and worth listening to. Paul injects his songs with so much gonzo production work that they either fall over in an embarrassing heap ('Out Of Control') or shine like never before ('Jaws Of The Dragon'). There are several songs here that build classily, going from a whispering nothing to a sudden acceleration that causes such memorable motion sickness in the listener you can almost forgive the fact that what came before the twist wasn't all that exciting ('Can't Find Love' is a good example - the opening is dreary, the middle is pretty good and the coda one of the best minute long tags on this website; there are others though, with the title track starting in a murmur and ending in a shriek or 'Black Widow' playing cat-and-mouse - or is that spider-and-fly? - the whole track through). The sound of - gulp - seven members now, playing together in the same room (as they seem to on 'Dragon' and 'Black Widow') cuts through all the not-quite-thereyness of the songs to become a most-certaintly hereyness of the performance. It's as if the band threw the songs together at the last minute but then decided to record them properly, which makes this a more enjoyable album than 'Earth' for starters. The end result is like listening to a B-movie with plot holes big enough to fit The Spice Girls' egos through whilst enjoying the scenery enough not to care. These are winds of change indeed (traditionally the Jeffersons were better on ideas than execution) and means that this record is rather better than reputation suggests with lots of great and memorable moments scattered throughout the record long-term fans really shouldn't lose out on. It's just a shame that there aren't more great tracks to attach those memorable moments too.
As the title suggests, there's a half-album theme of change blowing in from this album - and blowing in from both sides given this album's mix of hope and fear, with the two sides (almost) split nearly between the two. The title track's howling wolves and wailing winds make this trait obvious, with its balance of ecology and mysticism (is this a song about global warming? Spiritual emptiness? Or both?!) but it's far from the only track concerned with waiting nervously/eagerly for something to happen. Craig's 'Keep On Dreamin' is a sweet song about childhood memories of life being there for the taking and how the young boy couldn't wait to slay his dragons, marry his lady and be happy forever. Life hasn't quite turned out that way yet, but this being a Chaquico song the narrator still reckons it might all come true one day - after all, who'd have guessed he'd be hired to join the remnants of one of his favourite ever bands at the age of sixteen all those years ago? 'Be My Lady' has Mickey, via the Sears duo, building up his confidence to ask his girlfriend to be his wife - it's a big step into the unknown but the winds of change are sounding positive this time as the singer puts on his best wooing voice (and seduced enough people to score one of Jefferson Starship's last charting singles). 'I Will Stay' is the album's oddity, a promise to be constant in an ever changing world, built on the same lines as 'Be My Lady'. Finally on side one there is 'Out Of Control', a re-action to a world where things are changing too fast and nothing seems to make sense anymore (with a song that, erm, doesn't make much sense anyway).
Over on side two, that hippie hope is going through a bit more of an issue. 'Can't Find Love' has Mickey's narrator thinking that change isn't coming anywhere near fast enough, locked into a cold hard world of solitude and loneliness. Even a minute's worth of souped up Grace Slick offering advice at the end can make the winds of change come fast enough. 'Black Widow' takes up the sexual theme and finds Grace making her prey bite under the winds of change as he probably wishes he'd stayed in the safe and familiar. 'Jaws Of The Dragon' ought to be on the first side really (swapped with 'Out Of Control?') dealing as it does with the idea of re-birth and things changing back to the way things should be. The theme of most Jefferson albums has always been of looking to the future with hope, whatever the age, but here you sense a change in Kantner's style and ideology as he embraces the growing 1980s shift towards materialism and war. Paul knows he's out of time but rather than relinquish his band's lifelong message of peace simply wishes the old days back into being once again, while telling everyone why the world they're told they're living in is really a big hoax and the hippies were right all along. Along with the Kantner trilogy at the heart of final Jefferson Starship album 'Nuclear Furniture' it's the last great Jefferson hippie moment that no other band would have thought of (an uncompromisingly tough song that's bursting at the seams with love) though even this song is tougher than most past Starship songs, concentrating more on the evil changes in the world that are (hopefully) coming to an end than the good times to come again (accentuated by more wailing wolves and howling winds). This leads nicely into the album finale, 'Quit Wasting Time', another Sears epic that tackles the increasing heat of the cold war and the idea that we may not have very long to tell the people around us what we want them to hear, so we really ought to tell them now before it's too late. The winds of change won't last forever and nor will we.
Maybe it's the lack of Kantner songs but, 'Dragon' aside, it's notable how contemporary an album 'Change' is without as many throwbacks to the 1960s as usual. Few newcomers listening to this album would have guessed that this was a record made by the survivors of what was primarily a 1960s band or that just a decade earlier Jefferson Starship were about as prog-rock as you could get. Assuming my original vinyl copy isn't missing something I should know about, it's notable that this is the only Starship album not to have a photograph of the band somewhere. 'Black Widow' particularly is such as 1982 song (Madonna meets Adam and the Ants), while the Sears' four contributions are the sort of songs that can be heard on pretty much any pop album of the period, from Wham! to Whitesnake. Even 'Modern Times', the previous Jefferson record (which as the title suggests tried hard to mirror modern culture) was never quite this current. If you'd have explained the 1980s to a true Jefferson fan of the 1960s, with all its cold-hearted synthesisers, materialistic lyrics and over-exaggerated shoulder-pads then, well, firstly of course you'd have probably made them cry and vow never ever to grow up, but secondly they'd have assumed any of 'their' precious bands attempting those sounds would sound awful and stupid. Many of them do of course (Paul McCartney's 'Pipes Of Peace', George Harrison's 'Cloud Nine' and CSNY's 'American Dream' aren't exactly the greatest records in their respective catalogues), but actually the Jeffersons make a pretty decent fist of things here (it's the pure Starship albums that are embarrassing. Compared to everything else being made at the time 'Winds' sounds punchy, bold, assertive, impressively modern and generally exhilarating. Which isn't that far off what the 1960s Airplane always sounded like, even if musically there's very little link between the two by now. Fans seem to have an idea in their head that the late-period Jeffersons were the worst thing that could ever possibly happen to music; actually 1980s music is the worst possible thing that could have happened to music, but by comparison to their peers the Starship weren't doing badly at all. Even an album like this one, the weakest of the four records made with the Mickey Thomas line-up and the 1980s period straightjacket, isn't that weak in comparison to anything but the band's own free-range past.
Heck the Jeffersons even pioneer the music video, well sort of. The Airplane were always a highly visual band who spent a long time concentrating on their recorded history (with appearances in the Monterey and Woodstock films for starters, not to mention two TV specials, a cameo in a bank holiday Star Wars spin-off and the first AAA-concert-on-a-rooftop a year before the fab four). It's not until 1982 though that the band start treating the medium the way their younger contemporaries are treating it, with four mini-movies made of the songs from this album (even though only three singles were actually produced!) To be honest, none of these are much cop and seem to have been made in something of a hurry, but it's worth pointing out how unlike the videos being made by their fellow 1960s survivors they are. In the early 1980s ex-Beatles were going for the elder statesman look (literally with Macca's 'Pipes of Peace' video set in WW1), The Monkees were affectionately spoofing their age and origins and modern bands alike (the under-rated promo for 'Heart and Soul'), while Pink Floyd used their 1980s videos (such as the Final Cut Video EP) to make bigger political points that didn't involve the band at all. By contrast there Jefferson Starship are, strutting like a band a quarter of their age and dressing up: 'Winds Of Change' looks like some 1980s dungeons and dragons computer game (or ITV's superlative 'Knightmare' to anyone who remembers that); 'Be My Lady' features a groomed band acting like extras from a Duran Duran video; the rarely seen 'Can't Find Love' smacks of Kylie Minogue; while 'Out Of Control' looks like a cut scene from 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'. None strike you as releases by an aging band from the 1960s but would have been full of visual references for 1980s kids that most similarly aged music veterans would no doubt have missed. You can read more about this in our Jefferson TV clips guide at
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/jefferson-airplane-surviving-tv-footage.html by the way, in which Marty Balin gets attacked by a Hells Angel and transmission of a Jefferson concert on earth gets picked up by extra-terrestrials - it's one the more bonkers of the 30 AAA TV reviews).
Overall, then, 'Winds' isn't the place to start your Jefferson collection as it's more a case of not betraying the old values as badly as you think rather than an album to fall in love with. There's none of the power and commitment and songwriting of the two previous albums ('Freedom At Point Zero' and 'Modern Times') or the ambitious songwriting framework and general consistence of successor 'Nuclear Furniture' (one of our original 101 under-rated AAA classics for some very good reasons). However 'Change' wouldn't actually have to change that much to work; mix it with the best of Paul and Mickey's side projects and actually late 1981 through to mid 1983 seems like something of a mini-golden age for the band, with three albums within 18 months that are at worst presentable and at best pretty darn good (though all three are mixed bunches). Even if 'Winds' is one of the weaker Starship LPs, it just shows up how good the rest of them are with only two bland songs ('I Will Stay' and 'Quit Wasting Time') and one well-at-least-its-not-bland-but-what-the-hell-is-going-on??? experiment ('Out Of Control'). Most of the rest is pretty darn good, whilst 'Jaws Of The Dragon' 'Black Widow' and 'Can't Find Love' are respectively one of Paul's, one of Grace's and one of the band in general's greatest moments on record. Maybe the winds of change were blowing a bit too strong at times, with Grace's arrival Paul's absence Mickey's power struggle and Aynsley's departure all adding to the slightly unsettling feeling of the album. Or perhaps they're not blowing hard enough, with a few too many songs here that are just like last time out (but in truth not quite as good). No matter: when this album's creativity and inspiration are merely a light breeze it's inoffensive and as bad as people have been telling you for years - but when it's blowing a hurricane this is an album to be reckoned with, thanks to a trio of tracks that are good as anything the Jeffersons had done in years and even the worst tracks rescued to some extent by guitar-solos, productions that go the extra mile and Grace Slick back in charge and back in control. All Jefferson Starship records barring their one big hit album 'Red Octopus' are undervalued and under-estimated to some extent; this one, long dismissed as the runt of the catalogue, especially. In the final analysis, 'Winds Of Change' just does enough to impress, in the same way that it just squeaks over the 40 minute barrier (the usual length bands were told to aim for in the pre-CD age).
The winds are starting to howl, the beast is on the prowl and the album has started with the title track 'Winds Of Change'. Lyrically this is the song on the album most like the old-look prog-rock Starship, with tales of spiritual walks through desert sands and crumbling empires left to rot on desert floors that could have come from 'Spitfire'. The best verse comes in the middle with a typical Jeffersonian pull-back from the state of the world to the personal, as we are told that even if you 'think you got your life planned out' the little detail of un-foreseen change can wreck the best laid plans in a heartbeat. For the band that, more than perhaps anyone, represented the children of the 1960s who once greeted change as something wonderful and fulfilling, it's a timely reminder that not all 1960s wishes came true. Which is certainly true of the performance which is crushingly contemporary, with Craig transforming from one of the warmest guitarists out there to a snarling detached 1980s beast and Grace and Mickey between them turning into a slightly hipper version of oh-so-1980s band Dollar. As usual with the Sears writing team, the music and lyrics match well, turning from cosy domesticity to alienating landscape by twists and turns and there are just enough to keep the song brimming over even though in truth neither of these sections are as memorable as many past Starship songs. This song's greatest Grace moment: that purr into the last verse 'It's starting again!' in which she upstages Mickey putting so much effort into his vocal throughout with one single sentence.
'Keep On Dreamin' is, perhaps, not what most long-term fans wanted the Jeffersons to be doing in this period: cute inoffensive upbeat pop. This song, which sports a rare completely solo credit to Chaquico, is certainly no A-class moment like 'White Rabbit' or 'St Charles', but as inoffensive upbeat pop goes it's all rather fun. Mickey always had a certain understanding of Craig's songs (the two will collaborate on songs on 'Nuclear Furniture' - it's odd they didn't try earlier) which suit his breezy hope-for-the-future voice without taxing it with too many twists and turns. Chaquico's lyric is quite moving in a carefree way: when he imagined being his present age as a child (Craig was still only 27 despite his many years with the band!) he thought it would be all dragon-slaying, maiden-rescuing and that life was a 'bowl of cherries I could bury my face in'. The song starts with him watching not just the lights in the sky he thinks are falling stars to wish on but the adults enjoying adult lives of freedom and love (or so it seems). Now he's older he's more battle-scarred, finds the maidens he wants to protect quite often turn into the dragons who need slaying and that life is harder than he ever thought. But he still believes in magic - he's just discovered that it's now confused with the word 'love' - and he remains confident that one day life will be as good as he always imagined. 'If this is make-believe please don't wake me now!' Mickey pleads on Craig's behalf as his enthusiasm causes him to rush-headlong into another typically great guitar solo, full of fast-paced gravity-defying runs that remain as enthusiastic and energetic as in his 'youth'. The song's melody is a good match for the lyric too, rushing headlong into goodness knows what and desperate to find out what's going to happen next, held in check only by short sudden guitar snarls that try to bring the narrator down to earth. Not the deepest thing the Jefferson family ever did by a million light years, but sometimes simple and charming is all you need in a good pop song. This song's top Grace moment: a nagging harmony vocal that's impatient and restless and a good foil to Mickey's breezy enthusiasm.
'Be My Lady' was the single's highest charting single with a US peak of #33 - not bad for a band who weren't known for their singles and weren't exactly at the peak of their popularity at the time. Unfortunately this slightly bland song has rather tarred the rest of the album with the same brush as fans assume all songs are going to be as forgettable as this one. It's not the song is truly awful you understand - especially the nice and typically Jefferson mixture of detached cool and bubbling emotion which works well when the two things meet in the middle (with a typically expressive Chaquico guitar solo chasing down a detached Sears piano part into submission and the moment of 'realisation' into the chorus when the two sync into harmony is one of the loveliest moments on the whole record). As you'd expect from a tried and tested husband-and-wife team, the love-lorn lyrics are just real enough to come from the heart, even if they don't say much you can't learn from other songs. The swirl of band harmonies is rather lovely too. But a Jefferson love song used to have so much more going on than this: Marty sang his ballads as if his heart and soul depended on them while the Jeffersons gave their all behind him; here Mickey is going for detached cute charm while everyone else just kind of noodles along. In the olden days love was all it took to blow the mind of the audience and everyone on stage, expressed in extreme life-affirming glory; here Mickey sounds like a teenage boy with a crush he's going to have forgotten about when the next pretty girl comes along. Pete's melody also sounds suspiciously like something else ('Stand By Me' crossed with 'Imagine' is the closest I can tell) and only really comes alive when it explodes into commitment in the all-too-brief chorus. Somebody clearly liked this song (it wouldn't have made the charts if they hadn't) and certainly compared to most of the other messes around in the charts in 1982 Jefferson Starship's take on love reads like an Ibsen play or a Tolstoy novel. But you can't shake off the feeling that nobody involved in this song has really connected to it or believes in it somehow, despite the intensity of some of the lyrics ('I cannot speak and now I've lost my sight' - you don't need a girlfriend, son, you need a doctor!) This song's top Grace moment: another golden chorus harmony that's the warmth to Mickey's posing.
Unfortunately the album's two sloppiest, blandest songs are together on this album with 'I Will Stay' even less memorable than its predecessor. Another Sears partnership about their undying love for each other, it's another slightly sweet if rather clichéd declaration of commitment robbed by the fact that nobody in the room seems to care as much as they should do and a slow tempo that makes this song come across like an Elton John B-side from the same period. Mickey's narrator was thinking of leaving after an argument, but instead he turns around in the doorway and vows to stay, unfortunately with a lyric so bland his lover is more likely to throw bricks at him to make him leave than melt in his arms as he's obviously aiming for here. One wonders if the Sears wrote this song after an argument for real, although by most accounts theirs was (and is) a super-happy reliable meeting of soulmates (not like the broken crockery going on at Grace and Paul's a few years before). At least this song has a melody that works slightly better this time around, with a slow-burning fuse that again lights up nicely in the chorus though. If Jeffersonia (the Jefferson Airplane utopia every fan enjoys secretly in their head) ever enters the Eurovision Song Contest (and I don't see why they shouldn't given that flipping Australia are in there now!) then this is a prime candidate for the first year, cheesy key change and all. This number's top Grace moment: a duet harmony on the line 'I will stay with you' that wraps Mickey's pleading with an emotional cocoon of certainty.
Rounding out by far the weaker of the album's two sides is 'Out Of Control', the first shared songwriting credit between Grace and Paul since 'Ozymandias' in 1976 which fans had been patiently awaiting, with an extra credit to their daughter China Wing Kantner since the same song (China, once the baby on the cover of mum and dad's 'Sunfighter' record, is by now a lively eleven-year-old with a passion for period pop music, which might explain why this curious song turned out the way it did). Grace takes lead as she basically goes nuts, imagining a world on fire though whether literally or figuratively is never made clear. It could be that Grace is a mental patient, complaining that she's locked up inside away from the world while 'all the girls are outside and all the fun is outside!', before turning to her doctor with a sarcastic grin and putting on a fake voice that adds 'I have no mental problems...didn't anybody tell you?!?' Grace has never sounded madder - or badder if truth be told. After a short but snappy Chaquico guitar solo Grace complains that the lights have been turned off (again is this literally or figuratively?) and complains that she's a 'specialist in darkness' but this darkness is really bad while in true hippie speak '...the only light is from the fire of the burning books!' So far, so weird, but that's nothing on the ending which features a vocoderised Paul in the left channel and a by-now histrionic Grace shouting things in the right while Grace adds 'he says' or 'she says' in the middle. Sample lines from Paul's robotic voice: 'I am not Jesus, I am not radiation, I am not a commando, this is not Romper Room, I am not responsible...I'm going to Hollywood!' To which Grace answers about the only thing she could say really under the circumstances...'Shut up!' That must have felt satisfying given that it was aimed at a robotic version of her ex - the latest in many weird moments in Jefferson family folklore. To be honest it's hard to work out where the Jeffersons were going with this surreal song, which sounds like it was written in a shorter time than the three minutes it took to sing in order to pad out the LP. Is this a comment on how the 1960s idealist generation have been driven mad by 1980s societal pressure? (If so using another oh so 1980s pop backing is a good plan). Is it Grace repaying her own parental generation's assumption that straight-talking take-no-prisoners chicks into free love were themselves mad? Is it a misguided attempt at a comedy song? ('What character would you really like to be on this one Grace?' 'I don't know - someone in a loony bin?') Who the hell are Mary and Sue meant to represent?!? Or, most, likely, did this song only make sense when its creators were high? Whatever the cause or inspiration, this is a song that's totally out of control and while almost so-bad-it's great, ultimately it's so-truly-awful it's one of the lowest moments in the Jefferson canon as a whole. Your brain is likely to implode from listening to it this track is so bad. Well, I tried to warn you...Many failed AAA comedy songs are car-crashes; this one's a Starship-crash. Grace's best moment on this song? Err, when she stops singing and it's all over...
Thankfully side two is much better, to the point where you can't quite believe this is the same band. 'Can't Find Love' is one of the tastiest concoctions the Thomas-era Starship ever put together and plays towards all their strengths. Mickey, oddly, brings far more pathos to this band-written number (Grace, Mickey, Craig and several outside writers all get co-credits) about being out of love than the Sears songs about being in love. Craig's guitar riff merges well with some of Aynsley's crispiest drumming for a backing track that's lean and hungry, unlike many of Starship's recent grooves. Pete's bass keeps things downcast and moody, while David's glorious synthesiser work keeps things hopeful and bright. Grace positively nails the stunning finale where she dishes out advice like the hippest hippiest agony aunt ever, bordering on the X-rated in her gleeful improvisation for the first time since naming body parts in German back in 1971 ('Take some, make some, do it till you make her come...') Better yet, for once there's a song to go with the decent performance and production, one that the listener can actually get involved in and believe for real. Mickey's narrator has searched everywhere for love and still feels totally alone, staring out his bedroom window and counting the stars in the sky that he should be seeing reflected in his lover's eyes simply because there's nothing better to do. The turning point in the song is once again on this album the chorus, which we rush to headlong with the lines 'when there is nothing to believe in...' The first time around the chorus is a red herring: it's just another chance for another search and a quick jaunt through a Chaquico guitar solo that sounds a little sorry for itself. The next time around Grace and Paul have joined in too and urge the narrator to give up on waiting for love to come to him and 'reach out to something you believe in!' like a hippie Supremes. A few natty key changes later and we get the philosophy that 'you can't find love all alone', calling for the narrator to leave his isolated world behind and mingle. Not sure that advice has ever worked for me to be honest, but Mickey makes it all sound so infectious here and the power-push into the last chorus - a source of dead-ends the first twice we came to it - is majestic, now a source of unity and pride as the Jeffersons sing in triumphant chorus. All that and still Mickey and Grace's 90 second duet fade full of 'advice' to go - fab! 'Can't Find Love' is a song that truly rocks and one that surely would have out-sold the album's other singles had it been released first rather than third.
Having recently completed an alcoholics course for real, Grace sounds as if she needs to check into sex therapy rehab for most of this album's second side. 'Black Widow' is her first shockingly sexual piece since 'Across The Board' back in 1973 (motherhood clearly slowed that side of her down) and she's clearly having fun with her own daft lyric. Grace's first real composition since rejoining the Starship (and no, 'Out Of Control' doesn't count!) sees her back with her favourite writing partner Craig who contributes the aggressive-but-fun music and plays Dustin Hoffman to her Mrs Robinson throughout. Like the spider of the same name, Grace is merciless as she devours her prey, fooling him into thinking he's conquered and satisfied her when at the end she calmly walks away to her next conquest leaving him heartbroken and a little spent. This long cool woman in a red dress (sorry, red thang as it says in the lyrics) is one of Grace's better characters and she delivers the song with the right balance of knowing wink and seductive purr, sounding far more believable in this song of powerplay and mind-games than Mickey did singing about pure love. Like the character, the song is full of surprises: just when you think it's playing things coolly the song jumps into bed with a power-pop chorus that's full of some of the best harmonies on the record; when you think you've got in touch that this song is an epic it casually shrugs off the production numbers and goes back to basics; just when you think Grace is going to get her way scot-free Craig turns in a thrilling guitar solo that suggests he's giving as good as he gets. Even though the chorus 'take my love' sounds suspiciously like the 'can't find love' chorus we've only just heard (bad running order work right there), it's another good one: this is no monster but someone in control, eager to give their prey what they secretly want, if discarding them without a second glance later. Best Grace moment? Heck all of it: this is one of her last great songs before her 1989 retirement.
Meanwhile Paul has been busy concocting his second 'true' solo album 'The Empire Blows Back' with family and friends from other bands and hasn't really paying much attention to this album after deciding to pull away from the struggles from the control of the band the year before. 'I Came Back From The Jaws Of The Dragon' sounds much more like something from that record than this (and furthermore I'm convinced it got 'swapped' at the last minute with the song 'She's A Telepath', the only 'Empire' track that includes the whole of this Jefferson Starship line-up) spruced up with a few overdubs. The plot of the song (overcoming bad times against the odds) suits that record's generally downcast vibe (with hopeful overtones) and would have sounded mighty fine somewhere around the album's second side. That said, it also sounds pretty fine here, with (ironically if my guess is right) more of a 'band' feel than anything else on 'Winds'. Paul was fascinated by Chinese mythology and used dragons often in his work (see 'Dance With The Dragon' from 1976's 'Spitfire' in particular); here though the dragon is a metaphor for something bad and unwieldy, perhaps the corporations and societies 'really' in charge of America who were once again costing the generations dear. Mickey gets a verse that points towards 'Nuclear Furniture' to come as he comments on the horrors of modern day living and especially the deaths seen on TV, wishing that somebody would assassinate him after seeing the horrors committed against so many other human beings. A middle eight then discusses doughnuts - seriously. The metaphor being that we're told so much to concentrate on the hole in the middle that you forget about the bit that's there (the Jeffersons always seemed to be hungry, there's even a cupcake pattern on the 'After Bathing At Baxters' cover - or is it?...)
This all leads up to a typically triumphant final Kantner last verse in that he tells us that this 'dissatisfaction' and 'demoralisation' with modern day living is all part of a secret plot to keep up is our place. 'That's the way you're supposed to feel - that's the way they want you to feel!' The Jeffersons cry. Because while war is on our TV screens everyday and fear is in our hearts 'they' can get away with pretending that they're protecting us. Cue breakdowns in communication, family set upon family, chaos, disorder - stories about high crime rates (though actually crime used to be higher in centuries gone by - it was just better reported in the second half of the 20th century) and wars that are always imminent but never quite happen. They want us scared - and for a time there Paul was scared along with everyone else. All it takes is 'a moment of sweet sweet peace' and everyone is so deliriously happy they act of character and get locked up anyway for breaking some phony law that affects badly on no one. Paul thinks that the world powers have got us so scared that they're too afraid to do anything or speak out of turn and for a time there he was scared himself. But now he knows better, has come back from the jaws of the dragon trying to swallow him whole and is talking 'to your heart again', i.e. the fans who've been following the hippie hopefulness of the Jefferson philosophy for nearly two decades by this time. Together with a classic melodyline, nicely enhanced by Pete's bass playing, this is one of Kantner's strongest songs in a while with a track that sounds both as if it's been crushed in spirit and is refuses to give in the fight simultaneously. Many fans consider the Starship albums in this period to be over-produced and in many cases they're right, but not here: those tough harmonies, whistling synthesisers and scary animatronics wolf howls (because nobody knows what a dragon roar sounds like?!) all add up to a memorable creation that stays locked inside your memory-banks long after the rest of this album has been forgotten. The album's greatest triumph and a more than fair swap with the slightly limiting 'She's A Telepath'. This song's greatest Grace moment: after Paul sings about how we become 'so happy they all send us to jail!' to which her reply is a sarcastic 'why not???'
The album ends with the strongest Sears song 'Quit Wasting Time' which still manages to sound less interesting than the other three songs on 'Winds Of Change's second side. A taut, disciplined rocker featuring the first true Mickey-Grace duet (with the pair singing at the same time rather than swapping lines), it's an early sign towards the future 'Starship' sound from 1985 onwards, though superior to almost everything Starship actually did. Craig's gritty guitarwork is again the highlight of a song that's simple but drenched in just enough extra paraphernalia to stay interesting. You can tell that this is a 'cold war' song, sharing a lyric like many other AAA bands in this period about making the most of life because it might not be here much longer ('Nuclear Furniture' is full of several songs like this one). 'We could treat each other so much better than we do' is the key line of the song, delivered with aggression rather than love by first Grace then Mickey as they turn out to be the sort of lovers who attack each other's weak points for hours and then passionately kiss. They also warn us that that waking up tomorrow isn't guaranteed given world events and that we shouldn't put off telling someone we love them until tomorrow if we can tell them today (I love you dear dearer! There, I've said it. No, come back! Don't leave us for the Spice Girls forum, that's a dark place on the internet...) Sadly the final rhyme ('said' with limi-ted') rather lets the lyric down , while the song badly lacks a middle eight with Pete choosing to switch gears roughly between a chorus and verse that sound stapled together without any musical progression to ease the transition between the two. Still, if this song sounds as if it was made in slightly more of a hurry than some of the deeper tracks on the album, that's all in character at least. This track's greatest Grace moment: when Mickey suddenly ups his game and goes into a roar that seems to be improvised - so she replies by out-roaring him in just the same way, without missing a trick! (The two really were never really friends and were suspicious of the other's role in the band as 'token new boy' and 'token old girl' respectively, which makes the fact that they're two of the only three Starship members left by 1988 all the weirder).
Overall, then, 'Winds Of Change' is an album of two halves. I can see why this album got it's lacklustre reputation in many ways - so many fans must have heard the first side and felt they couldn't quite stomach the second. But if you persevere you discover, if not quite a classic, then at least an inconsistent album with some mighty fine stuff. Given the circumstances and the winds of change blowing through the studio (Grace joining, Aynsley leaving, Paul and Mickey partly absent and only Grace, Craig and Pete really giving their whole attention to the record). Had this record been made more like the last one ('Nuclear Furniture') with Paul fully focussed (if apart from what everyone else was writing), Mickey fully committed (with perhaps his two best songs), Grace slipping her own solo songs in quietly to avoid the band mind-games and David Freiberg given at least something to do, 'Winds Of Change' could have been a classic. Instead it's an album that's not as bad as you think it's going to be, from a band who are much more interesting than people think they're going to be, from a period that's not as bad as people claim it to be. Lower your expectations a little if you have to, skip most of the first side and celebrate the little victories that crop up on every track and you might just find that the winds of change don't always blow for the worse and that sometimes change can be a good thing.
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