How you feel about Air’s 1971 debut will likely be solely predicated on your tolerance of and/or for Googie Coppola’s voice. It’s the dominant instrument throughout, placed so high in the mix that it often threatens to overwhelm the rest of the players. Hers is an impressive voice, a brassy, strident mix of Aretha Franklin via Carole King, but one that lacks any sort of subtlety or nuance and instead relies almost solely on melismatic warbling. Given the project’s jazz roots, her approach is the equivalent of a saxophonist blowing for all their worth without regard for the tonal, dynamic or emotional shifts required to make the music affecting. Were her vocals on the album plotted on a histogram, the peaks and valleys of each would fall roughly in line with one another. So formulaic is her vocal approach here that nearly every performance becomes wholly interchangeable.

Because of this, Air’s lone, self-titled album exists mainly as a curio due to those associated with the project, many of whom would go on to far bigger and better things. Air itself offers little more than pedestrian late-‘60s/early-‘70s jazz rock. These are clearly competent players backing Coppola, but unfortunately that’s essentially all they are doing. Given only a few brief, fleeting moments to shine, the instrumentalists make the best of their time. On the instrumental “Lipstick,” Michael Brecker delivers a fiery soprano saxophone solo that provides the album with one of its few flickers of life.

Yet given the talent behind the group—namely both Brecker brothers, Jan Hammer and Herbie Mann (who also produced the set)—the end result should theoretically be greater than what it is. Unfortunately, these inarguably talented performers are relegated to sidemen status as Coppola is credited with not only vocals and a handful of keyboards, but also primary composer and arranger. With a somewhat limited palette from which to work, the band is rendered nearly faceless, dominated by Coppola’s presence. Due to the formulaic nature of the music and performances, this could just as easily pass for Stone Cold, Ten Wheel Drive or any number of female-fronted Bay Area jazz rock groups, despite Air’s East Coast origins.

Tracks like the opening “Realize,” “Mr. Man” and “Jail Cell” (featuring some truly atrocious, sub-Keith Emerson organ noodling) all rely on the same basic tonal structure, espousing hippie clichés that fail to transcend the age in which they were laid to paper, coming off as poorly-aged and more cringe-inducing than anything else. A quick glance at the track list more or less sums up the nondescript lyrical approach as words like “man,’ “love” and “free” crop up again and again. The piano/vocal duet that closes the album, Dick Dallas and Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” represents the apex of these soporific hippie platitudes, with Coppola rambling on and on about freedom, being free and making love. Viewed within a modern context the triteness of the lyrics and blindly idealistic nature of the performance and sentiments behind it are just god-awful.

Air, like their namesake, lack the necessary substance to warrant consideration from anyone but the most ardent fans of a time often best left to the dustbin of pop music history. There are many other far better albums from the same time period more deserving of your time. The reissue of Air, complete with a sticker price of nearly $40, is for completists and crate-digging snobs who place greater value on rarity over quality. All others will find themselves more than capable of surviving without this particular Air.

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