Tuesday, October 28, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LED ZEPPELIN - IV/HOUSES OF THE HOLY DELUXE EDITIONS
Do I need to argue the merits of these two Zeppelin albums here? They are well-known, and much debate exists about the benefits of these, albums four and five in the group's career, compared to the first three. As bored as I am with Stairway, right up there with Sweet Home Alabama in the Great Overplayed Classic Rock Anthems of the '70's radio format, IV includes the great opening couplet of Black Dog and Rock And Roll, and Side 2 opens with Misty Mountain Hop, so it still packs awesomeness even when skipping the ubiquitous cut 4, Side 1. As for Houses, I love all the acoustic work, and unlike so many others, find D'yer Mak'er quite enjoyable, actual ear candy from these serious blues-rockers.
Then there are the bonus cuts. These are for all you fans out there who have been wondering for years what The Rain Song would sound like without piano. Hands? Bueller? How about No Quarter without the vocal track and some John Paul Jones keyboard overdubs? A different mix of Stairway that sounds pretty much identical? Maybe I don't know the songs well enough that I'm missing the subtle differences, but the fact is, these are the same basic tracks, not different recordings on different days. All that is changed is some fader levels and overdub parts. And there's no controversy over levels and layers, not like say, the Nirvana In Utero sessions.
When first announced, there was some buzz about the "fabled, alternate Stairway to Heaven mixed at the Sunset Sound Studio in Los Angeles." Mixes can make a huge difference in a song, when choices are made to bury certain elements, increase the volume of others, let more echo be heard, and then you can get into any amount of messing about with studio effects. The less elements you have, the less you can do, although sometimes it can seem quite drastic if you eliminate well-known parts or include something that was mixed out of the famous version. I'd have to say this alternate mix includes only subtle differences at best, with the electric piano a little louder at one point, a drum roll more present, that kind of thing. The vocal-less mixes on the sets are included to showcase the guitar and sometimes mandolin overdubs that were done, but again, Page and Co. were very economical in the studio, and either all the truly different things were thrown out or erased, he won't issue, or there just weren't any.
Here's the issue though. If there weren't bonus cuts, they couldn't do the more expensive Super Deluxe boxes, or even 2-disc deluxe versions. The real prize here is the remastered sound, but will consumers shell out for just upgraded sound? Not so much. Any decent outtakes were supposedly used on Coda and previous boxed sets, what there were, and there's been a BBC Sessions collection. I'd much rather have live tracks, but Page has been picky with that. There's a lot of live stuff out there now, I suppose. So what else can you do? Let some re-mixer come in and add a rapper? Get Page to record new banjo parts? Enjoy the main albums, they are classics after all. And for heaven's sake, listen to them on a stereo, not your computer.