Monday, September 15, 2008

Led Zeppelin 6: Physical Graffiti

The inevitable double album—which came about when Zep had too much for a single and wanted to let out some worthy leftovers—could have been slapped with the “self-indulgent” tag, but they rose to the occasion. Physical Graffiti is one of those rare cases when four sides of music contain zero filler, with a flow from start to finish.
“Custard Pie” starts it off with a rocket, a slightly huskier vocal from Plant and a gurgling clavinet in the back to keep it funky. “The Rover” is heavy to please the kids, but always sounds like the tape is slowing down by the end. “In My Time Of Dying” is a blues extension that works much better than it ought to. Once it gets rolling, it’s impossible not to be carried along.
“Houses Of The Holy” is the title track that never was, an inferior cousin to “Misty Mountain Hop”. “Trampled Underfoot” has even more funk and stink, and has also grown a lot over the years. “Kashmir” is the quintessential eight minutes in the canon. “Stairway” may be their most successful offspring, but “Kashmir” is Zeppelin’s proudest achievement. Those first four seconds, that deceptive meter (over two or four), the fake horns and strings, those extended held notes and its immortal use in Fast Times At Ridgemont High make it work on several levels. How many people have bought Zeppelin IV only to be confused when “Kashmir” wasn’t on it?
Side three is perfect. “In The Light” creeps in, with all the delay effects, symphonic sections and that majestic layered ending. “Bron-Yr-Aur” is also suitably pastoral, and quite a variation on the same old chords. Very pretty. “Down By The Seaside” almost doesn’t sound like them, but it’s got a dreamy, accurate seaside quality to it. The “ah” sections at the choruses and the “twist” interlude work every time. But if we had to choose an absolute favorite Led Zeppelin song, it would be “Ten Years Gone”. The opening is aching, right along with the lyrics about certain wounds that never heal, the middle section, right up to the “did you ever” bridge—again, a perfect album side.
After that, the rest is almost anticlimactic. “Night Flight” is notable for the mention of “mother” (as opposed to “mama”) and is a fairly inoffensive pop song. “The Wanton Song” is another version of “The Rover”, a lumpen riff that doesn’t go anywhere except for the Leslie effect on the solo. “Boogie With Stu” is a rewrite of “Ooh! My Head” by Richie Valens, featuring Ian Stewart on piano; convenient since he’d driven the Stones’ mobile studio over for their use. “Black Country Woman” is the second blues song in a row, starting off like their own acoustic thing but with that kickdrum pounding through your chest. But all is not lost. “Sick Again” is sublime, especially with that chord in the key of H at the beginning. Some great layers here. The song and the album end with a resounding thud just like Zoso. Whew.
Even if you buy this album just for “Kashmir”, you’ll find lots of other moments to enjoy. Take the time to take it in, and you’ll be rewarded. (Speaking of which, the Deluxe Edition added another two sides’ worth of working takes, the most striking being “Everybody Makes It Through”, which eventually became “In The Light”. If this mix is to be believed, they dropped in the verses once rewriting them. The drier mixes, particularly of “Houses Of The Holy” and “Trampled Underfoot”—here called “Brandy & Coke”—bring out the nuances of the vocals as well as various instruments, while the “rough orchestra mix” of “Kashmir” still blurs the answer as to which brass and strings are real and which are Mellotron. Hats off to John Paul Jones, and for the mandolin on “Boogie With Stu” too.)

Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti (1975)—4
2015 Deluxe Edition: same as 1975, plus 7 extra tracks

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