Jefferson Starship, Red Octopus

Of all the various flying contraptions this band has adopted and the local maxima they've reached, they've only ever had one perfect lineup and this 1975 album is its solitary record. A faintly demented combination of folk, fiddle, rock and Grace Slick's sonorous Joplinesque contralto, love is the theme and they sing it all kinds of ways (even the poor Japanese of "Ai Garimasū," properly ai ga arimasu yet inexplicably on the CD reissue as "Al Garimasū" as if he were some sort of nisei sportscaster). Marty Balin returns for some writing and lead vocal duty, most notably on the startlingly sexual lead single "Miracles" (with its slipped-in-the-shower saxophone), but for me the most remarkable part of the album is Papa John Creach's stratospheric, almost trilling electric violin on its two instrumental tracks. Another notable aspect: the faultless programming, deftly building its energy from the zippy opener "Fast Buck Freddie" and the first side's lighter feel through the big finale of "There Will Be Love" on the second. Their apparent concerted effort to make a more commercially friendly album clearly paid off, as well as successfully avoiding the overwrought psychedelia of their previous incarnation even if the lightweight lyrics never quite equal the sophistication of the musicship. Creach's exit in 1975 and Balin's and Slick's (first) in 1978 doomed this morph of the band to never fire on all cylinders again, so enjoy it and think of what might have been. The CD reissue adds the single of "Miracles," whose shortening is an indignity, but the 1975 Winterland Arena live tracks do possess some interest (especially the band introduction) despite unfortunately their recording after Creach's departure. (Content: adult themes on "Miracles" and "Sweeter Than Honey.")