First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2005, Volume 12, #10
Written by John Metzger
On their 1974 outing Dragon Fly, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick resurrected the name Jefferson Starship from their collaborative effort Blows against the Empire, and they began to make some serious, more mainstream-minded concessions to their work. Nevertheless, this shift in perspective did yield a side benefit in that it allowed Jefferson Airplane’s founder Marty Balin to set aside the differences that he had with his old bandmates. As a result, he cautiously devoted himself to the project by lending Caroline to the endeavor, and given that power ballads ruled the airwaves during the mid-’70s, it wasn’t terribly surprising when his contribution became a runaway success. With the release of Red Octopus, the trio’s reunion became more permanent — at least for the short-term — and once again, Balin played a key role in redefining the band as a hit-making machine. In fact, the smooth, sultry, and sexually suggestive strains of Miracles landed the tune at number three on Billboard’s singles chart, and for four weeks, the collection sat atop Billboard’s list of the top-selling albums. Beneath the surface, the song wasn’t much of a departure from Balin’s early compositions, which — from It’s No Secret to Young Girl Sunday Blues — largely dealt with affairs of the heart, but adorned with a full-blown string arrangement as well as a soaring saxophone solo, it bore little resemblance to the rugged, earthy fare that had been the mainstay of Jefferson Airplane’s career.
As for the rest of Red Octopus, it was a hodgepodge of styles that ran the gamut from the arena-ready stomp of I Want to See Another World to the R&B-oriented pop of Sweeter than Honey and from Papa John Creach’s funky hoedown Git Fiddler to the progressive-rock leanings of Pete Sears’ Sandalphon. Although Larry Cox’s polished production served as the glue that improbably managed to hold together the album’s disparate musical strands of thought, Jefferson Starship never recovered from scoring such a massive, commercial triumph. Instead of building upon its conquests, the ensemble merely tried to replicate Red Octopus’s magical moments, and thus the band began its gradual descent into mediocrity (and worse).
Recently reissued, Red Octopus boasts several notable bonus selections, including the shortened version of Miracles that pervaded FM radio during the ’70s. Despite the fact that its running time was half that of its counterpart on the album, the single felt utterly complete — so perfect and seamless was the execution of its various edits. The remainder of the extra material was plucked from a concert at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena in November 1975, and the performances of Fast Buck Freddie, There Will Be Love, and You’re Driving Me Crazy not only are inspired, but they also demonstrate that Jefferson Starship remained capable of packing quite a punch. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box