Led Zeppelin – Presence (1976) — 9.5/10   Leave a comment

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This is a bit of a cop-out album. I’ve heard this before. A lot. I don’t really need to listen to it.

Background:

Led Zeppelin, in late 1975, was coming off the high of being the biggest rock band in the world. Physical Graffiti had just been released, they’d had their famous Earls Court concert and, just before, a big, big tour of North America, with many more planned for the future.

But, in August 1975, Robert Plant, while on the Greek island of Rhodes, became involved in a serious car accident which nearly cost him his life and left him wheelchair-bound for a good period. Page’s addiction to heroin and Bonham’s alcoholism began to grow more forceful in their lives. The band members were against the wall.

During this tumultuous period of upheaval, the band wrote and recorded this “cry from the depths”–Presence–with the guitar dubs being done in one night, and the whole album seeing completion in a small period during November.

The album itself:

I’d like to start off by saying this album was far from my favorite for a while. It grows on you, you know.

Anyway, the album opens with this winding guitar riff, falling into this powerful groove that forms the backbone of “Achilles Last Stand”, which I’d call (with “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from III) the band’s best overall performance on a song. Bonham is, as Dave Grohl has described him overall, “teetering on the edge of a cliff”. Jones is in perfect sync, helping bring this already formidable rhythm section to new heights. Page’s guitar work dominates the track, and, impressively, sounds like the musical manifestation of war. Plant’s vocal ability was in a somewhat steady decline after ’73 and ’75, but he brings it all over “Achilles”. Energy, awesomeness–all you could want in an album opener, and it sets the stage well for the rest.

The song descends with another riff at the end, just similar enough to the opening to make you wonder if that’s what the opening sounded like, but just different enough to make you feel crazy. Then, a crashing G power chord and a slightly swung, off-kilter beat set the stage for “For Your Life”, something a bit more introspective than what we’d be used to. They’re oft criticized for misogyny, and it does occasionally make their material hard to listen to, especially in this age of social progression, but as becomes plain, the little misogyny in this album is used to do one of:

1. Show past beliefs and why they were wrong
2. Be a part of “Royal Orleans”

Back to the song, though–Plant does his best, keeping in mind his wheelchair, the rhythm section is fan-fabula-tastic, and parts like at 2:08, when the heavy riff in A (and later in G) comes in, make me wonder whether it was heroin or magic Page was shooting. It is, as the kids say, heavy as hell.

Then “Royal Orleans”, the only filler on the album. I do like the music, but the lyrics…describe John Paul Jones accidentally burning a hotel room to smithereens with a marijuana joint while asleep next to a transsexual prostitute. There’s so much “no” going on that I have to dock this album its only half point, and it’s not the transsexual part. Still, the riff is neat, and the heaviness present before, though intangibly so, is still there.

Then this spacey guitar comes through, and Plant moans and groans out an imitation. Back to the blues, ladies and gents. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is something of their tribute to their eponymous albums of ages long past, except with less “that woman ain’t been treatin’ me right” and more symbolism and introspection. Also, Bonham is ridiculous on this track (SO MANY CYMBALS), and Plant’s harmonica solo is to die for.

Then, the lesser known material. “Candy Store Rock” starts with this 50’s rock riff on steroids. Page manages to take an older genre of rock ‘n’ roll, closer to the heart of country, and make it sound fresh, and, frankly, awesome as can be. I must also, again, comment on the rhythm section–I almost wonder if a lack of keyboard focus is what drew Jones to be so much more awesome on the bass than anywhere except II.

“Hots On For Nowhere” is similarly rife with bass and blues, rather as “Nobody’s Fault” was. The solo is one of the most interesting parts of the song, there’s a few polyrhythms going on here, and all four band members are in great harmony, as the song morphs from the beginning sounds to the energized folk riff it becomes. (“HEY BABE, HEY BABE, HEY BABE, I LOST MY WAY”)

And now, for something quite like what avid Led Zeppelin listeners have heard before, but also quite different. A 6/8 slow blues song in the key of C minor. “Tea for One”, at first, sounds basically like an edgier “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. But there’s so much more to it. The vaguely polyrhythmic beginning, the lyrical maturity (it’s not as blatantly sexist as their early blues), the guitar work on the track, everything. “Tea for One”, a spectacular track by all involved, from the rhythms of Jones and Bonzo to the leads of Page and Plant, deserves a name of its own; it’s as identical to “SIBLY” as “SIBLY” is to “I Can’t Quit You Baby”. This track is the epitome of a “cry from the depths”, as Plant called the album.

What can I say about it as a whole? There is an advantage do doing all the guitar in one night–the guitar is uniform, and that tone, Plant’s wailing and introspective lyrics, and the powerful rhythm section are the threads that tie Presence together. A beautiful example of an album, with accessibility, seperability, and unity all in one. If you want to blame anything for less than a perfect score, blame “Royal Orleans” for relating an anecdote that just kills the maturity. 9.5/10, and next to Led Zeppelin II, my favorite Zep album.

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Posted August 10, 2012 by farglenargle in Uncategorized

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