Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Led Zeppelin 7: Presence

In a time when the band’s fortunes seemed to fold in upon themselves, Presence is a strange trifle, and an understatement coming after the steady incline of their last few albums. While it was recorded very quickly for its time—less than a month, and finished early so the Stones could use the same studio for Black And Blue—it never sounds rushed or unfinished.
“Achilles Last Stand” has its roots in the extended parts of Page’s “Dazed And Confused” live experiments. As a guitar army it’s not necessarily the best yet, but it’s still pretty fascinating, and Plant gets to wail over that insistent drumbeat. After ten minutes of that, the lazy stroll of “For Your Life” is almost laid back, though the song itself isn’t relaxed at all, particularly the attacks on the whammy bar. “Royal Orleans” is a Crescent City-influenced rave-up that never ends when one thinks it should, ending the side oddly.
“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a successful extension of an old blues song, and bands are still ripping this one off today. “Candy Store Rock” is a rockabilly idea that doesn’t really go anywhere, while its twin, “Hots On For Nowhere”, is too complicated to sound fully developed, though you can hear a riff that would one day reveal to have been around for a couple of years. “Tea For One” starts with a jam along the same lines, then takes the “Since I’ve Been Loving You” theme to the next step in its relationship. It’s even in the same key. The finale results in bookending an edgy yet weary album about the pressures of the road and stardom, and the question of whether it was all worth it.
Presence was recorded under duress, and it shows. For the most part, from start to finish, the lyrics are pretty somber. Although it may not seem like much on paper, the album does earn repeated listenings. Still, considering how much studio time was devoted to it, plus everything that happened to the band in the year after it was released, it’s only natural to overlook it. All these years later it retains a crisp sound and a definite level of energy from the back row. While it doesn’t grate, it doesn’t stink, and in the end, that’s a good thing.
The album was still in the running for “most underrated” when its Deluxe Edition emerged at the end of the final remastering campaign, with a 30-minute bonus disc. This time, so-called reference mixes of four of the songs seem to lack only some final guitar overdubs, save a version of “Royal Orleans” with its unrecognizable raspy vocal. The biggest surprise is an otherwise unknown song, given the unwieldy working title of “10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod)”. Built around a slow John Paul Jones piano sequence, even the eventual addition of guitars and drums make it hard to believe this is Led Zeppelin, particularly without lyrics. Had they finished and included it, Presence would have sounded very different.

Led Zeppelin Presence (1976)—
2015 Deluxe Edition: same as 1976, plus 5 extra tracks

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