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Modern Times

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Album Review

This second edition of the Mickey Thomas-era Jefferson Starship/Starship polished '80s rock is actually a weird hybrid which you could call psychedelic metal. For fans of the fragments that were Sunfighter, Baron von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun, Manhole, and other experimental Airplane offshoots, this material is much too mainstream for its own good. But it isn't the eminently dislikable Mickey Thomas who is the major culprit as much as it is producer/engineer Ron Nevison, whose homogenization of records from Ozzy Osborne to Heart displayed a glaring lack of creativity, inspiration, or sense of anything remotely resembling art. Yes, Marty Balin actually practiced "Jane" with the group prior to his leaving the Freedom at Point Zero sessions, and had he stayed onboard, the approach may have been a more progressive folk-rock. It was Larry Cox who engineered from Dragon Fly to Spitfire, co-producing the music with the very capable band. Minus Balin and Cox, the true evolution of the Airplane sound is mutated and muffled on Modern Times. Critic William Ruhlmann noted that "Stairway to Cleveland" is "as gutsy a statement of purpose as any in rock," but that tune and the title track, two ofPaul Kantner's three contributions, are the only ones with elements that stay true to the band's original mission. "Stairway to Cleveland" follows the dramatic and techno-orchestrated "Alien," which at least is better than the generic "Free" preceding it, or the second cousin to "Jane," which is "Mary." It means you have to sift through the Mickey Thomas/Ron Nevison sterilization to find the advertised product: Jefferson Starship music. "Mary" is a far cry from what the Jefferson Starship name implies and belonged on a Mickey Thomas solo disc. Rather than continue the natural evolution of the Airplane sound, both "Jane" and its follow-up, "Find Your Way Back," lead off their respective albums and borrow heavily from Foreigner's 1978 hit, "Hot Blooded" (itself a nick of David Bowie's "Jean Genie"). "Find Your Way Back" went Top 30 in the Spring of 1981, and is a decent arena-rocker from the pen of Craig Chaquico that the guitarist sometimes opens his jazz shows with. Considering where Chaquico went after Starship's breakup, a jazzier direction for the group may have been more worthwhile than arena rock and could have had more staying power. The liners proclaim, "And introducing Grace Slick," and that's humor the album needed more of. Slick's presence enhances the LP, Pete Sears and wife Jeannette Sears creating in "Stranger" a precursor to "We Built This City" where Slick and Mickey Thomas blend their voices, but that's the future. Paul Kantner's "Wild Eyes" would work better in the previous settings of "Red Octopus" and "Earth," for here it has that psychedelic metal sound again which is just too overdone to matter to longtime fans of the group. Modern Times was used as an album title by a variety of artists from jazz to folk to country, but despite its moments, this Modern Times, its predecessor Freedom at Point Zero, and its successors, Winds of Change and Nuclear Furniture, became the antithesis of the works of art which are Dragon Fly, Red Octopus, Earth, and Spitfire. Ron Nevison produced three of the four 1980s hard rock albums by this group: draw your own conclusions.

Customer Reviews

The offical review is garbage!

Where does the reviewer get off with remarks like "the eminently dislikable Mickey Thomas"? Man, I just don't get it. This band had Grace Slick, Mickey Thomas, and Marty Balin on vocals at different points, and the best times were the rare occassions you had all 3. Mickey and Grace sound great on this one, and the guitar work shreds. I am so glad this is finally available again. The official reviewer is some music snob who needs to get a life!

Melodic and intense

The official review is far too negative. Yes, this album is different from earlier Jefferson Airplane/Starship albums and was probably a disappointment to some existing fans. Yes, this album is extremely heavily produced, commercialized, and slick (no pun intended). But those facts don't make this a bad album. Most of the songs are well-written and well-performed. They are melodic and intense -- great for listening to on headphones. I play many of these songs, including "Save Your Love", "Stairway To Cleveland", and "Modern Times" over and over at high volume until I'm endangering my hearing. And although the songs have a different style from the band's earlier work, the difference is not all that large. Jefferson Starship tends to write longer-than-average songs with at least slightly political lyrics, big choruses, and long, long fadeouts at the end. Those elements are included in many of these songs. That's not to say there's nothing to criticize here. "Free" is indeed a mediocre song. And, ironically, although in "Stairway to Cleveland" the band claims that they do what they want and don't try to please other people, the exaggerated bravado and junior high school bathroom language show that the band is desperately trying to look "cool" -- the song doesn't live up to its own lyrics. Nonetheless, overall this is a very good album with catchy songs and energetic performances.

Awesome Album

This is one of the best albums put out by this group imho. I read the review above and was shocked at the negativity freely spewed by the author towards this album. I first purchased this album as an LP way back when it first came out. Like another reviewer here I spent years trying to find a legal copy of a digital version. It wasn't on iTunes for the longest time but it is here now!

The album is as fresh today as it was back in 1981. The guitar jams are frequent and also played within the boundries of the respective songs melody. Catchy and easy to listen to. Some songs are just as fun today to play extremely loud such as "Stairway to Cleveland".

A must have for 80's rock fans.


Formed: 1974 in San Francisco, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Jefferson Starship was among the most successful arena rock bands of the 1970s and early '80s, an even greater commercial entity than its predecessor, Jefferson Airplane, the band out of which it evolved. Many Jefferson Airplane fans decried the group's new, more mainstream musical direction, especially after Airplane singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin departed in 1978. But with shifting personnel, Jefferson Starship managed to please its new fans and some old ones over a period of a decade before...
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