STARSHIP, the latest incarnation of the Jefferson Airplane, is the musical equivalent of New Coke. The group's sound is sweeter and fizzier than before, yet lacks the bite that gave the old formula character. With Paul Kantner gone, Starship's flirtation with heavy-metal pop has turned into a full-fledged romance, and "Knee Deep in the Hoopla," the band's new album, boasts considerable pop smarts as a result.

Unfortunately, almost none of the new ideas came from the band itself. Only one of the nine numbers on the album was written by the Starship crew; the rest, like the hit single "We Built This City," were brought in and tailored to the band's sound by producer/keyboardist Peter Wolf (who also helped shape Heart's comeback album). That lends the album a certain sparkle, but it also renders the band faceless, to the extent that when Mickey Thomas sings the opening verse to "We Built This City" in a phony British accent, the listener hardly notices that anything is amiss.

No wonder, then, that Starship has chosen to tour with the equally anonymous Night Ranger. Although "Seven Wishes," that band's latest, is catchy in the best hard-rock tradition, it's also an essentially hollow album, packed with songs more concerned with The Sound than with content.

Given the "content" that does periodically crop up, though, maybe that's a good idea. After all, if the date-rape scenario spun in "This Boy Needs to Rock" is Night Ranger's idea of fun, perhaps they ought to consider making a career of instrumentals.

STARSHIP -- "Knee Deep in the Hoopla" (Grunt BXL1- 5488).

NIGHT RANGER -- "Seven Wishes" (MCA-5593); both appearing Friday at the Washington Convention Center.