Thursday, July 30, 2015


And so it ends, if we can believe Jimmy Page.  The well is dry now, at least when it comes to studio tracks from Led Zeppelin.  With the release of the final three remastered albums in the catalog, along with the companion bonus audio discs, Page assures us everything the group did that approached a song is now out. 

As usual, the second disc of tracks is really only for the trainspotters, at least on Presence and In Through The Out Door.  There are rough mixes for most of the songs, which means the differences between those and the released cuts are minimal to most.  Whether it means guitar parts yet to be added, or different ones included, I haven't the time or interest to play each one back-to-back to find the odd moments.  On the rare occasion there's some major difference, it's a brief thing, the kind of moment only collectors and book writers cherish.

Presence remains the most under-appreciated album in the band's career.  Designed to be a return to heavier sounds after the mixed bag of Physical Graffiti, great goings-on surrounded its production, thanks to Robert Plant's very nasty car wreck.  While it does offer that, with keyboards and acoustic guitar virtually banned.  Page did play a whack of good guitar, but sadly they all forgot they needed some good songs too.  Aside from Achilles Last Stand, one of the group's heaviest and longest cuts, favourites are rarely named from this album.

I'll argue the merits of In Through the Out Door, although it too has detractors.  It's famously a Jones-Plant album, the other two worse for wear from addictions.  Jones had this brilliant new synth, and was trying all sorts of arrangements, and it's fascinating to hear his more melodic style coming to the fore, such as the piano-heavy South Bound Saurez.  Page too was willing to try out new things.  Check out the crazy way his guitar solo jumps into opening cut In The Evening.  Yes, there were pop moments, Fool In the Rain and All My Love the obvious ones, but I'd rather inspired pretty than heavy but dull.

Then there's Coda, which is part of the reason there have been no bonus cuts among the discs of companion audio in the reissue series.  Released as the final Zep album in their contract after the death of John Bonham, it was made up of out-take songs from as far back as the first album, and three that hadn't made the cut for In Through The Out Door.  It succeeded well in that role.  Wearing and Tearing from 1978 was a return to their full-on 1969 mode.  Bonzo's Montreux, with some Page tweeked and twiddling, is one of the best drum solo tracks you'll ever hear or at least one of the most interesting.  We're Gonna Groove is a great live cut from 1970, the band in full blues power of the time.

Here's where the reissue series finally gets exciting.  The extras for Coda, a full two more discs, are more than just the early mixes.  That doesn't mean they are all new; this is the catch-all set where all the previously-released rarities show up, such as the 1968 blues Baby Come On Home, which dates back to the New Yardbirds days, the start of the band.  It had previously come out on the Boxed Set 2 collection from 1993, something lots of fans won't already own.  Sugar Mama though, is new on disc for the first time (if you don't count bootlegs).  It comes from the same era as Baby Come On Home, and has Plant in full-throated electric blues prime.  There's also an instrumental called St. Tristan's Sword from 1970, a curiosity at best.  There's long been interest in the tracks Plant and Page recorded in India during a visit in 1972, and these appear here finally.  Friends and Four Hands (Four Sticks)  were previously released by the band on the third and fourth albums, and were tried out with the Bombay Orchestra.  The sessions didn't go as hoped, and they've been shelved until now. It's kind of interesting to hear Indian musicians playing the melodies, but the arrangements aren't really dynamic, and the songs fall flat, no one able to add any life to the performances.  But now you know, it's all here, warts and all, good times, bad times, food for thought and fodder for arguments, everything you want from a band, which at its best was one of the very best.

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