LED ZEPPELIN REVIEWS:
Led Zeppelin (1969)
Album Score: 13
You know, it's going to be hard for me to write about this band. Hundreds—probably thousands—of people more knowledgeable than I have written plenty about them over the years. But that's not the main problem. I admit I have a pretty difficult time getting into this group. I've owned copies of their first five albums for ages, and I've enjoyed them from time to time. But when it comes to my preference music, I always seem to gravitate towards artsier and poppier music. Led Zeppelin are a hard-blues band, which is almost the opposite of that. In other words, these Led Zeppelin reviews I shall write are written strictly in the point of view of a non-fan.
But they're an awesome blues band, and that is what I will spend the rest of this review talking about. As approximately two billion people have written or said before me, Led Zeppelin inspired an entire of generation of musicians who play a brand of music known to the world as heavy-metal. Sure, I hear accusations thrown at them for being completely unoriginal with their songwriting, and they certainly have a good case. For example, “Dazed and Confused” was shamelessly stolen from a little known folk composer Jake Holmes. He wrote a great song, of course, and obviously he should have been credited for it. (The story goes that Page thought that changing the lyrics and the melody slightly was enough to make it his “own.”) At the same time, however, Led Zeppelin had transformed that little folk ditty into an absolute powerhouse of a song. So, while Led Zeppelin are nothing but no-good thieves, it doesn't mean these songs aren't awesome.
Let's talk about “Dazed and Confused” some more, because that's probably the best one of the lot. It begins with that distinctive, powerful descending bass-line that is followed-up by some echoey, minimalistic touches by Jimmy Page. It's exactly what I'd imagine an acid trip would feel like: it's dreary and a little bit sick. What's really brilliant about that song is not really the main melody, which honestly I have a hard time discerning because of Robert Plant's overly flamboyant singing style, it's that instrumental interlude. The first part of this interlude continues the creepy and dreary feeling of the opening part of the song, but suddenly a terribly menacing beat pops sort of like a sugar rush. And then Jimmy Page lets loose the flashiest electric guitar solo that he probably could muster.
Basically everything on the first half of this album is awesome. “Good Times Bad Times” (no relation to The Rolling Stones song) is an explosive album opener that's basically a pop song with LOUD guitar. It's just as much catchy as it packs a wallop. “Babe I'm Gonna Leave You” is a folk cover that starts out—well, folky—but then this powerhouse of a rhythm section comes in with just about the most menacing, thunderous beat than I ever could have imagined! Sorry to resort to a stoner cliché here, but IT BLOWS MY MIND!!!!!!!!! Oh, and this rhythm section creates another thunderous experience for the mid-tempo blues “You Shook Me.” Of course, being a mid-tempo blues song, it's nothing too original in the songwriting department; it's the way that it's presented that's so unique.
As a whole, the latter half of this album is weak compared to the first even though it has a great heavy metal (or proto heavy metal) song called “Communication Breakdown.” That's one riff that just catches fire and runs with it for two and a half minutes! (I like that it's so short--it's to the point!) But I'm not a huge fan of the anthemic “Your Time is Gonna Come” and the folky “Black Mountain Slide.” They're both well-written and performed, but they don't seem to do much to grab my attention either in the instrumental or melody departments. “How Many More Times” features some really cool guitar, but that's about all I can say for it, and “I Can't Quit You Baby” is a cool blues song, but doesn't really seem to add anything to the genre.
I almost gave this album a strong 12, but then I remembered that the first four tracks of the album are so memorable and powerful that this album deserved the higher rating. And it's not like the second side of the album ruins the experience at all; they're still entertaining numbers that show these guys' instrumental prowess. They just don't blow my miiiiiiiiind! I might not care to listen to Led Zeppelin a whole lot in my free time, but I would have to be deaf or something to not realize how great all this is.
Read the track reviews:
Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Album Score: 12
If anything I say about Led Zeppelin is irritating you, then you deserve to be irritated. That's right. This is how I'm starting this review. I am preemptively defending myself against flame letters. Not only is this a defensive tactic, but it saves me from having to talk too much about this band. As you might have noticed in my review of Led Zeppelin, I have severe doubts about my ability to actually say anything about them that hasn't been said a billion times. So why am I even covering them, then? I guess because it's freaking Led Zeppelin.
Alright. “Whole Lotta Love.” It rules. I don't find myself listening to Led Zeppelin a whole lot in general, but I do rather frequently play that song when I run across it poking around on my iPod. The reason it's awesome is obviously because it has one of the great rock 'n' roll riffs of all time. I mean, that's the sort of riff that immediately excites me after the first second of hearing it. How many of those has rock 'n' roll ever had? I guess since Led Zeppelin were artistically viable, there are other things to that song beyond the riff... It has a rather psychedelic instrumental interlude, which is pretty silly, but still very much fun. It's the same sort of thing that Pink Floyd did later on with “Great Gig in the Sky.” In fact I'm a little surprised I didn't notice the similarities until now.
Led Zeppelin are usually awesome at riffs, but I'm not a huge fan when they just recycle boring old blues riffs. “The Lemon Song” is well-played, but the riff is more on the slow and clunky side, and I don't seem to enjoy myself all that much when listening to it. Similarly, the riff in “Moby Dick” is shrug-worthy to me. But that so-so riff is actually the highlight of the song considering it prominently features a lengthy drum solo... I feel like Captain Ahab whenever I listen to a drum solo. I want to convert them all into lamp oil. If I could. “Heartbreaker” is clearly one of the album's highlights, because it actually has a riff that packs a *PUNCH*. That's all we really ask of Led Zeppelin. We want their riffs to punch us square in the jaw and knock us out clean. Also I have to mention that Led Zeppelin were indeed godlike instrumentalists, but what's with their bizarre solos? “Moby Dick” had that horrible drum solo, and “Heartbreaker” has a goofy guitar solo. And what's with Robert Plant's singing? Sometimes I think he's kidding with some of these bizarre vocal fills he comes up with. (“Shake for me girl!” “Heeeeyah! Ho!” “Ooomah hey hey hey!” “Keep it coolah babuhhh!!!) But he's not. Unfortunately. And neither were their imitators. Double unfortunately.
But I do appreciate that Led Zeppelin weren't a dumb, generic band who simply wrote one riff and called it a day. Led Zeppelin usually took the time to think of ways to keep their music unpredictable enough to surprise and delight me. At the same time, however, I swear that one of my favorite songs on this album is “Living Loving Maid,” the simplest and shortest song of the bunch. Aren't I a barrel full of contradictions? I suppose there is something great about them just skipping the nonsense and going neck-deep into their heavy riff-rock. That's what the people want, right? The people don't want to wade through questionable folk ballads and overblown instrumental solos! ...Well, maybe some people like that last thing. Maybe some like the folk... Insane.
“What Is and What Should Never Be” is a pretty damn good combination of folk music and hard rock. The folky parts are a bit dull, but when they suddenly jump into the heavy rock sections, it sends my senses flying! “Ramble On,” on the other hand, just sort of rambles... Like this review... “Thank You” seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it sort of song, and I surprisingly find myself in the “love it” camp. I think its melody is one of the strongest of the album, and I like how it develops (up until that rather long-drawn-out ending). It's hardly a perfect song; I get a little bit irked when the music stops at times and I'm forced to endure a few seconds of complete silence. Maybe that was 100 percent intentional, but that didn't mean it suited it. The album closer, “Bring it On Home” is a good one. It begins and ends with a strangely subdued cover of Sony Boy Williamson's R&B song of the same name, and there's a more traditional Led Zeppelin hard-rock number sandwiched in the middle. The Led Zeppelin section has one of those celebrated killer riffs even though it still has nothin' on “Whole Lotta Love.”
All in all, this is a mightily good follow up to Led Zeppelin. It lost a little bit this time around, since it doesn't have anything nearly as butt-whompingly awesome as “Dazed and Confused” on it, and all the attempts at straight blues here seems very pale to “You Shook Me.” But whatever. Led Zeppelin II is still thoroughly excellent. I would highly recommend it, but I would be approximately 1,203,403th person to do, so what's the point?
Read the track reviews:
Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Album Score: 11
This is usually called Led Zeppelin's folk album, which I suppose makes sense because it has its fair share of folk ditties. But the best moments of this album have little, if anything, to do folk at all. By far my favorite moment is the slow-blues ditty “Since I've Been Loving You.” There are two separate reasons that it's unusual for me to like such a song: first, it's nearly seven-and-a-half minutes long; and second, it's slow blues, a sort of music that I have a terribly difficult time getting into. But Led Zeppelin knew exactly what to do and how to do it. The bluesy guitar licks hit all the right notes, the song gets more dynamic and passionate as it gradually pushes to that conclusion. I even like Robert Plant's stylized singing voice there; he's more careful, calculated, and about as non-annoying as he could possibly be.
I'm also a fan of the short, hard-rock ditty “Immigrant Song” that opens the album on an exciting note. The two-note riff is about as simple as it gets, yet there is a lot of ball-busting glory in their presentation of it. The riff along with Robert Plant's wolf-howls throughout makes this one of the more iconic numbers in their repertoire without a doubt.
The folk stuff, however, is largely hit-or-miss. A hit is “Friends” that sports a catchy riff and a funny sort of Middle Eastern flavor to it that I can hungrily lap up. I also like those crazy, mind-bending strings and synthesizers they intensify toward the end; it's a weird twist that helped make the song even more memorable. “Gallows Pole” is a miss, though just. The appeal of it is the sonic texture the strumming acoustic guitar and that trotting drum-line create. “Tangerine” is a fitfully good country ballad, and I like that they thought to bring a banjo in for the mix, but I really wish they would have banded together to create a juicier melody. As it is, it's a bland and forgettable, and it serves as little more than a reminder that The Rolling Stones did that sort of thing scores better. “That's the Way” is a very long-drawn-out folk ballad that also has appealing acoustic textures, but the melody falls short, and I get a bit tired of it halfway through.
The last two songs of the album are really quizzical. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is a snappy and upbeat folk ditty with one of the most base-level vocal melodies that I've ever heard. I mean, it's no stretch of the imagination to assume that there are a half dozen blues songs from the '30s with the same basic melody. Wikipedia doesn't indicate this, but I'd be extremely surprised if Led Zeppelin were the first people to sing this melody. If nothing else, at least that song is listenable. “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper,” on the other hand, makes me sick to my stomach. It's a rip-off of several old blues songs (that they credited to “traditional”), and it features Jimmy Page blandly playing a riff. (It sounds a little like he was overplaying it, if that makes any sense, but by doing that he took all the juice out of it.) Robert Plant does his usual overblown wailing, but for whatever reason he thought it would be a good idea to sing through a tremolo, which basically sounds like he's singing through a fan. Some have said that Led Zeppelin was in a period of experimentation when they recorded this album. I appreciate experimentation, but maybe these weren't the best guys for it...
I probably would have liked this album more if they had concentrated on hard-rock like they did in Led Zeppelin II, as would the rest of the world I'm sure. But I respect these guys for not repeating themselves. It's more than most bands do. It's just that they're not particularly great at writing folk and country music, because they have trouble writing engaging vocal melodies. Hard rock, on the other hand, they were pretty damn impressive with. Although, I can't forget that Led Zeppelin III contains the hard-rock “Out on the Tiles,” which is catchy, I suppose, but it doesn't pack the same can of whoop-ass as similar songs in Led Zeppelin II did. ...So, maybe this was just a minor lull in their career.
I was on the border between a 10 and 11 on this one, but the strength of “Since I've Been Loving You” was enough to push it over the edge for me. In fact the entire first half of the album is so strong that I do listen to them “in my free time” now and again. Of course, it's pretty rare if I make it through the entire album, but that's not such a big deal. Give me an album with a few great moments and a few dull moments anytime over an album with no great moments and no dull moments.
Read the track reviews:
Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Album Score: 12
Led Zeppelin kept their name off this album for some reason, so I'm going to give the credit to the guy on the cover. Hey, guy on the cover, I like your album! What are you planning on doing with those sticks? You're gonna make a fire? That's cool... So, what should I say about the most famous album in the history of mankind from the most famous band of all time (that is, the guy with the sticks)? I guess I could say it's a good album. It has all sorts of famous songs on it.
I guess I could talk about how I first ran across this album. I bought it in the Summer of 2001, and it was among the first two dozen or so rock albums in my collection. Around that time and the following fall, I listened to it many times earnestly trying to get it in my bloodstream. Everybody says this is one of the best rock albums alive! So I should really, really, really be able to get into it, right?
Well, that never happened. The simple fact is Led Zeppelin IV is nothing more than an album I appreciate. I wish I could go off on a fan rant about how much this music means to me, but I can't. It turns out my taste in music is gay. (My favorite musicians are the following: David Bowie, Genesis, Kate Bush, Elton John, ABBA...) It's the way God made me!! That said, I'm listening to this album right now, and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I find it wholly entertaining. It's just that I hardly ever get the itching desire to play it when I'm not trying to review it.
The album starts out with “Black Dog,” a heavy blues song featuring Robert Plant's wailing voice doing a call-and-response type thing with some head-banging guitars. I hate Plant's vocal melody but listening to it interact with the guitars is a damn fine experience. Then there's the down 'n' dirty “Rock and Roll,” which is so famous and memorable that I'm pretty sure I heard it on a commercial somewhere. I also like the folk ballad “Battle of Evermore” for that tinkling and waving acoustic guitar pattern, geeky lyrics, and that silly way Plant makes his vocals sound like something out of a fantasy movie. (Not only is my taste in music gay, but it's geeky.)
I like that the Medieval folk ditty “Stairway to Heaven” is unarguably Led Zeppelin's most recognizable song even though it isn't heavy metal. And why shouldn't it be famous? It has a pretty melody, and it rocks out mightily at the end. I don't even care about its insane eight-minute running length. It's that good! “Going to California” is a more Americanized folk ballad, and for some reason it's extremely easy for me to get caught up in it. I guess I like its guitar textures, and harmonies!
“Misty Mountain Hop” seems rather clunky, and they could have done more to improve it. “Four Sticks” has an interesting riff that reminds me of a lawn-mower revving up and a complicated bubbling drum pattern that lends it a strange texture. But I confess to getting bored midway through that song as well. ...Surprisingly those are the only two songs that I'm even somewhat bored with. The album closer “When the Levee Breaks” is a seven-minute hard blues ditty that's filled with so much sleaze and glamor that it leaks all over the place. In other words, that's exactly how hard-blues is supposed to sound.
So yes, I will be approximately the 16,342,039th person to give Led Zeppelin IV a glowing endorsement. I do that to all the albums that have this many good songs in it! That said, I don't consider this to be a perfect or flawless record. It's certainly not as “mind-blowing” as their debut album! What's more, I can happily go long stretches of years without getting the desire to listen to it. But when I do listen to it, it's an entertaining experience. Plus, you can head bang to some of it. As if that's a good thing. (I'm going to listen to Elton John after this. “Your Song” is the best song of all time!)
Read the track reviews:
Houses of the Holy (1973)
Album Score: 11
This is one hell of an odd record. It sounds like Led Zeppelin were attempting to take themselves into a more prog-rock direction, but they weren't too sure how to go about it. The album opener “The Song Remains the Same” starts out sounding like it'll be another butt-whomping heavy metal classic, but instead it sort of wanders around with a bunch of Who-style power chords without ever going anywhere. It's fun to listen to for sure with the possible exception of that slowly paced drunken bit where Robert Plant starts to sing. I wish that they would have brought some sort of distinct atmosphere or emotion in the mix, but they didn't. It's just an ordinary, barely above average guitar song in the end.
Although “The Song Remains the Same” isn't the album's best example of prog-rock. For that, you needn't look further than “No Quarter,” which to my surprise does contain its own special atmosphere and texture. It begins quietly and creepy with rubbery keyboards, which sound to me like it's illustrating some sort of swamp. (I hope I'm not the only person who thinks of a swamp... Sometimes I feel like I'm in a psychiatrist's office describing inkblots when I talk about music...) The guitars and drums slowly pick up, and they're awesome of course. Eventually Plant starts to sing, and he does it with some real subdued passion. Overall, that's a brilliant song, and single-handedly made their prog-flirtations worthwhile.
There were also weird attempts at other sorts of music, most notably funk and reggae. The reggae “D'yer Mak'r” is one of my favorite bits here thanks to its memorable melody and fun instrumentation. The only main drawback (and not really a big deal to me) are the lyrics, which are pretty stupid even for Led Zeppelin. The funk outing “Crunge” is so weird that makes me think of an early Talking Heads jam session than actual Isley Brothers style funk. Perhaps that means its ahead of its time or maybe it's just awkward because they didn't know how to go about it. It's interesting, though. The detached groove takes a little getting used to, and Robert Plant clearly had no idea how to sing to it. He's just sort of squawking in a default bluesish sort of way.
When it comes to choosing my favorite moments of Houses of the Holy, I have to stick with the more traditional stuff. (I know, that's hard to believe since I've always been claiming to not care for their classic style! Am I a Led Zeppelin fan, after all?) “Dancing Days” is a really butt-whomping mid-tempo hard blues with a catchy riff and a memorable vocal melody. I even like Plant's vocal performance there, who is keeping himself (for once) from belting out extraneous “uh-huhs” and “baybuhs.” It even seems a bit alien to me, because some blessed soul is playing a strange off-key keyboard in the background.
Led Zeppelin nearly bested “Stairway to Heaven” with another ballad “The Rain Song,” which is one of the most beautiful things I laid my ears on. They brought out a Mellotron for that, and … wow, not even Genesis made that instrument sound so nice! Although to be fair Genesis and The Moody Blues made that instrument one tiny part of their overall landscape, and Led Zeppelin created a texture no more complicated than an acoustic guitar and a Mellotron. But what a pretty song!
I usually applaud a band that wants to experiment, and Led Zeppelin found a quite few interesting things in their attempt. I liked their funny reggae tune, and I really liked their full-on prog outing “No Quarter.” But some of the others come off as rather clunky and unexciting, which makes me wonder if they were just better off just sticking to heavy metal and ballads. Despite what I might have been insinuating in previous reviews, heavy metal and ballads aren't a bad thing!
Read the track reviews:
Physical Graffiti (1975)
Album Score: 12
According to Led Zeppelin lore, these guys had written too much material for their follow-up to Houses of Holy, so instead of cutting some material, they decided to expand it to a double album. Usually, that entailed filling the album with a ton of unused (and weaker) material from earlier albums. The result is one of the more scattershot and less “revolutionary” Led Zeppelin albums, but I'll be a monkey's great-aunt if I don't find this thing to be entertaining.
This was planned to be a back-to-basics album as the progressive rock ambitions of Houses of Holy didn't seem to pan out too well. This is an album filled with simple riff-rockers more or less. Not that I didn't want musicians to expand their boundaries a little bit, but we all have to face the facts: Riff-rock was just their strength. There's nothing finer than hearing these guys rip out a catchy riff over and over again while Robert Plant wails over it like he does (although he seemed to already lose some of his range since the classic days, which is surprising).
I had a copy of this album for quite some time, but I'll admit that I never actually sat down and listened to the whole thing until I wrote this review. The reason I kept this album around was for one reason, and one reason only: “Kashmir.” I am with 99 percent of the rock 'n' roll population who thinks that's a tremendously cool song. They come up with that ascending chord progression riff that sounds so epic that it should have been in a soundtrack to a '50s movie in Technicolor starring Kirk Douglas. That epic. Even Bonham's rather simple drumming seems larger than life! Robert Plant of course sings stuff over it, but even that doesn't destroy the good mood.
Another song that wins me over for its badassery is “The Rover,” which is little more than a really awesomely played riff. Did we really want anything more from them? The album closer “Sick Again” is another one of my favorites. It's little more than a dumb and dirty riff, but it's catchy and I can actually get caught up in it. “The Wanton Song” features such a quickly played riff that it smacks me around and forces me to pay attention, and that constitutes another highlight.
There are a couple of oddball songs in here, which I appreciate, since it keeps this 15-track album from growing too samey. Although I'm not much of a fan of the nine-minute psychedelic/new-agey song, “In the Light.” There's some interesting elements to it (such as a nicely done bendy synthesizer solo at the beginning), but that song seems to drag on for waaay too long, and its heavy guitar sections just seem flat to me. One of the album's good oddball songs must be “Trampled Underfoot,” which contains such a tight and catchy groove that it forces me to tap my foot with it. John Bonham deserves credit for his inventive drum sounds in “Boogie With Stu” and “Black Country Woman,” which would have otherwise been boringly ordinary.
“In My Time of Dying” is another highlight that I feel the need to point out mostly because it is the sort of song that I thought I would have hated. It's an 11-minute piece filled with nothing but bluesy licks, minimal drum beats, and Robert Plant sounding like he's improvising a melody. But somehow, they keep those bluesy licks consistently interesting, so it doesn't completely lose my attention.
A lot of Led Zeppelin fans consider Physical Graffiti to be their best. While I'm not with them on that assessment, I can see where they're coming from. This is where Led Zeppelin started to lose some of their (honestly misguided) artistic ambition and just concentrated on songs that are fun to listen to. Sure, there is that weird exception (“In the Light”) and maybe a few songs that could have rocked out more (“Ten Years Gone”), but all in all this is right on the money.
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Album Score: 9
Arrrrggggghhhh... OK, let's cut to the chase. I don't care much for this album. I was hesitant about reviewing it in the first place because the half-listens I've occasionally given this over the years didn't yield a whole lot of memorable experiences. Listening to it many times to prepare for this review didn't help matters much either—I find this to be one incredibly boring album.
I know how people love Led Zeppelin, and how much they hate reading opinions about their albums that are anything less than glowing, but surely there are far greater ills in the world like diseases, starving children, Barry Manilow's covers albums, so any negative opinion I have about a '70s heavy metal album is just a minor blip on the radar of the world's injustices. I'll just supplement this review with the disclaimer that there are a whole lot of people in the universe who like this album more than I do, so don't take my word for it.
At least there is one song that I really like, and it's (predictably), “Achilles' Last Stand.” It probably didn't need to be more than 10 minutes long, but it is an exciting and entertaining song the entire way through for the most part. Bonham's extremely busy and dazzling drum patterns certainly did their part in helping it sound consistently alive, and as you'd expect Jimmy Page turns in a number of good, ball-breaking guitar licks. What's more Robert Plant delivers a mighty fine vocal performance—seeming to favor the mystical side of his voice instead of that obnoxious, faux-blues thing he was known for doing in those classic albums. (Apparently he was wheelchair bound when they cut this album, and he was worried that he would never walk again! Maybe he was feeling humbled, or something.) Truth be told, I start to space out at around the five minute mark, but it never gets to the point where it becomes boring. It's fun, but I guess I'm not extremely enamored with it. It doesn't give me much of a high. Fans call it underrated, but I think its status as a semi-classic is pretty well justified.
If I'm not head-over-heels in love with “Achilles' Last Stand,” then the rest of the album is pretty much screwed. “For Your Life” has interesting elements, notably slightly evolving guitar patterns as it develops, but as a whole I find it to be clunky and too slow. “Nobody's Fault But Mine” is interesting in the sense that it seems to be very sincere confessional in which Robert Plant addresses his bad drug addiction, but I find listening to that song too much of an uncomfortable experience. Given that it was about drug addiction, perhaps that “uncomfortable” effect was what they were trying to accomplish, but that doesn't make me enjoy sitting through it any more.
There are a few other songs on here that I have an overall good time with, but they're nothing to write home about. “Royal Orleans” is nothing more than a three-minute rocker with a decent riff. They've had much better riffs in the past, but a good Zeppelin riff is a good Zeppelin riff. “Tea For One” is a slow and very lengthy blues number that seems to work pretty well. I don't get overly excited about it, but at least Jimmy Page turns in a number of interesting blues licks!
I think one of the main reasons Presence doesn't make much of a connection to me is that I find this to be too much of a straightforward electric guitar album. In their previous albums, they tried different things such as Medieval folk ballads, mellotron solos, unusual percussion sounds, and full-blown string orchestrations, but here they don't seem to experiment at all. Of course there are plenty of rock 'n' roll lovers who only like the electric guitar sound and would consider this lack of experimentation a boon. If that's you then forget everything I wrote and check this out. But even then, I don't hate all straightforward guitar albums; I surely would have enjoyed Presence more if the riffs were catchier, the guitar textures were more engaging, and the songs themselves were more memorable. Parts of this album are entertaining, but as a whole it just bores me. And I feel awful that this bores me, because it's actually very respectable.
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In Through the Our Door (1979)
Album Score: 10
I suppose if you're not going to go out with a bang, then you'd might as well go out confusing the hell out of everybody. This was the final Led Zeppelin album released while all the members were still alive (John Bonham would die the following year), and this is one freaky beast. Legend has it, these guys had so many problems that they were hardly able to function as proper human beings much less coherent musicians. The only member of the band who was straight enough to write new songs was John Paul Jones.
Jones was also apparently aware of his surroundings enough to realize that the music the kids were listening to in 1979 was disco and new wave. So, lo and behold, In Through the Out Door is very much a keyboards driven album! Except, the keyboards are very weak in the mix and thus sound terribly amateurish. I certainly can't blame them for not letting the keyboards dominate everything since Led Zeppelin had the great Jimmy Page among their ranks, and nobody would dare drown him out. Except Page spent most of the album puttering about in the background not seeming to give much of a damn about what he's playing. And all I can say about the nearly dead drummer Bonham was that he kept good time; if you're expecting him to throw out any inventive fills in the mix, then you're going to be sorely disappointed.
I think nearly everyone can agree that Led Zeppelin were reduced mere shells of their former, glorious selves at this point, even compared to Presence, and yet this album entertains the hell out of me. I was starting to worry that the entertainment value of this album was unintentional, but I listen to a song like “Hot Dog,” and I realize that at least they had control of their faculties enough to goof on Elvis. Plant warbles around amusingly in that Elvis Presley way (as opposed to the Robert Plant way), and that generic country-rock hoedown groove they generate is so much fun that it makes me want to get up out of my chair and goof around with them.
I can't be sure what was possessing them to do it, but they wrote a 10-minute song devoted mostly to a disco groove, and they dubbed it “Carouselambra.” It's such a strange song. Plant wails over it just as though he were (poorly) singing a regular Led Zeppelin song, and Page can barely be heard making deeply pitched growling noises with his guitar in the background. It's such an odd thing, but I somehow find it rather infectious and at least Jones' bass is danceable! Unfortunately the middle portion of that song is devoted to a very long and very sluggish bit of heavy blues that has absolutely no personality. When they get to that portion of the song, 10 minutes starts to seem like 20 minutes.
The lengthy reggae bit in the middle “Fool in the Rain” is nearly unlistenable, and the vaguely poppish “All My Love” is so awkwardly played that they sound like a mediocre high school band warming up. “South Bound Suarez,” on the other hand, utilizes such a strange keyboard texture that I can't help but to sit up and take notice of it. Heck, perhaps I even like it! The opening song, “In the Evening” certainly didn't need to be seven minutes long, but I find that dumb keyboard-centric riff to be quite catchy, and it's complimented well with some heavily mixed and simple drumming.
A lot of people really like the closing song “I'm Gonna Crawl,” and I have no trouble believing that whatsoever. The main attraction there, surprisingly enough, is Plant who actually vomits in his microphone in a convincingly emotional manner. I don't find the melody or groove engaging whatsoever, and in fact I get bored of it after only a short time, but Plant somehow manages to keep it together. Even a functional Page comes in here and there with a few interesting licks.
Led Zeppelin in In Through the Out Door were half-disintegrated, and I wouldn't recommend this album to anybody. However, if you've purchased it by accident, then you might be surprised to find some entertainment value in this strange, strange album. To say the least, it was a head-scratching way for this band to go out.
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Album Score: 9
I've been long suspect that I've been a dummy my entire life. The fact that I can listen to a much maligned outtakes album like Coda and enjoy it more than Presence has such connotations. How can a straight-thinking person think such things? Maybe it's the pure imperfection of this I like. Perhaps I approached their earlier albums feeling that Led Zeppelin were a little too self-aware that they were immortal rock 'n' roll gods. Who knows?
Anyway, Bonham died in 1980, and I guess that meant there was no chance of Led Zeppelin continuing to release albums under that moniker. So I guess that gave Jimmy Page reason enough to go through the vaults to pick out some unused songs to remix and release. Some people saw this gesture as a cheap cash-in, but according to Page, it was a response to these songs being rampantly bootlegged at the time. That's a really damn good reason for him to have released this. If nothing else, it proved that there was a sizable audience for this stuff.
And the kids of the early '80s had a good reason to be interested to hear these songs. The opening track, “We're Gonna Groove,” kicks ass! It was recorded live way back in 1969. As you might imagine, that was when the band was at the peak of their live playing abilities, and it shows. Everything is in its place; Plant squawks like a rock star, Page's guitar licks are tight and exciting, Jones' bass is infectious and danceable, and Bonham's drumming is tight. It's a cover of a B. B. King song, but it sounds exactly like a classic old Led Zeppelin song. So where can it go wrong? Frankly, I wonder why this song isn't more beloved by their fans.
A live version of “I Can't Quit You Baby” is also included, and it's certainly another one that the die-hard fans will lap up greedily. I find it to be a little bit sloppy and I'm not a huge fan of Page's improvised and selfish licks throughout, but I can't deny that I get a little something pumping through my veins when I listen to it. “Poor Tom” is a folkish rocker that was left off of Led Zeppelin III. It isn't bad for what amounts to a two-chord song! What keeps it afloat, amazingly enough, is Bonham's tight drumming.
Also amazingly, Coda contains a four-minute drum solo, “Bonzo's Montreux,” that I don't find boring. When I think of drum solos, I usually think of flashy and pitter-pattery things that are sometimes fun at first, but they pretty quickly start to bore me. This drum solo, on the other hand, is rhythmic and huge. It sounds as though Bonham were playing it on a mountaintop, and Zeus was his audience. I can't say I'm greatly awestruck listening to it—it's just a drum solo after all—but it's one of the few drum solos out there, I'm aware of, that makes me want to tap my foot.
Things were going great until the closing track, “Wearing and Tearing,” an overlong and sloppy song that was left off of In Through the Out Door. Shouldn't we be immediately suspect of anything that was left off of that album? Normally yes, but I actually like the other outtake, “Darlene.” It's a stiff boogie-woogie, but the detached riff is kind of catchy, and the loud drumming makes it seem epic. They even treated us to some Jerry Lee Lewis style piano in there, which certainly doesn't hurts!
Despite my opening paragraph, Coda is by and large the worst Led Zeppelin album. It's the most scattershot and sloppy collection of songs this band ever released. But what were we expecting? Masterpieces? This is an outtakes album, for cripes sake! What's more, they had already used up the best of their pre-1975 outtakes for Physical Graffiti. However, this album isn't as bad as its reputation would have us believe. I found Coda to be an altogether fun release. However, it's only meant for people who already own and love all Zeppelin's other albums. Make this your final Led Zeppelin purchase. Unless you're weird and like to do everything backwards.
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