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Led Zeppelin Presence (1976)

LZ PRCNSFrom classicrockreview.com

In late 1975, Led Zeppelin had planned a world tour to capitalize of the phenomenal success of their latest album Physical Graffiti. the band was at the absolute zenith of their popularity with a string on top-selling albums going back to 1969. However, a serious car accident involving lead singer Robert Plant while he was vacationing on the island of Rhodes with his wife, made the tour impossible. Plant was confined to a wheelchair for nearly six months and this tilted the band towards writing and recording a new “unplanned” album. The result was Presence, the least successful album in the Zeppelin catalog commercially and one with very mixed reviews critically. However, Presence is the album that the band themselves consider to be their “most important”.

During his recovery period in Malibu, CA following the accident, Plant began to write some lyrics. He was soon joined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page to further work on these compositions. When enough material had been written, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were summoned to rehearsals in California. The band then migrated to Munich, Germany for recording, all with Plant still in a wheelchair. The studio was small, in a basement, and very difficult for Plant to work in. Further, the band found out that they had just 18 days for the entire production as the Rolling Stones had the very same studio booked for their next album, Black and Blue. As producer, Page pretty much stayed awake for the entire 18 days in order to complete the album in Munich.

The result is, perhaps, the most unusual Led Zeppelin album (although each of their albums are quite distinct). Page developed a cleaner, “twang-ier” guitar sound in contrast to his signature “crunch” riffs of earlier days. Bonham’s drumming is furious and strong with a sound extended from that on Physical Graffiti, while Jones continued his migration from a dynamic blues to that of a more standard rock bass player. As Plant himself admits, his vocals dynamics suffered a bit due to his confinement. Further, he was a bit upset with the band’s management for keeping him from his wife, who was also seriously injured in the car wreck and recovering back in England, mainly due to tax reasons. Still, Robert Plant at 50% is superior to most rock singers and his performance on Presence is far from embarrassing.

The album was completed on November 26th, the day before Thanksgiving, which was a suggested title for the album. This title was rejected in favor of “Presence”, a representative force surrounding the band. The cover artwork features various images of random people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped “object”, a sort of play on the space object in the film 2001.

Presence is the only Led Zeppelin album with neither acoustic or keyboard tracks, as the band made a concerted effort to forge and updated version of their earliest “raw” sound. This strategy succeeds well on the first side but is less successful on the second side as the three songs on the first side are far superior to the four on the second. Still, it is refreshing that the band never lost their capacity for experimentation even with this quickly rushed album.

Unlike most albums which tend to build towards an epic song late on either sides this album kicks off right away with “Achilles Last Stand”, the tour de force of Presence. The song starts with dreamy, flanged guitar intro by Page which gives way to a rapid trigger-like riff that gets variated throughout. It is a true journey of a song lead by Plant’s lyric and vocal telling of his misfortune in the land of the Greek heroes. One flaw with the song is that it lasts just a bit too long and becomes a little repetitive towards the end. It perhaps would have worked better as a 7-minute song than this 10½ minute goliath.

This last point is magnified with the album’s closer “Tea For One”, another extended cut but with alot less action. The truth is, the best part of this 9-plus-minute song is the first 21 seconds when the band does a riff completely out of context with the rest of the song, which is a slow and depressing diddy that wallows in misery and desperately cries for a kick into a higher gear at some point. Some have pointed to the shorter songs on the album as “filler”, but I believe the filler actually lies within the longer compositions themselves by virtue of repetitiveness. Which begs the question – if the band didn’t feel like they had enough material, why not add some older material like they had with Physical Graffiti? We know now that there were some fine, unreleased songs out there like “Travelig Riverside Blues”, “Poor Tom”, and “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”

Rounding out side one is a couple of unique Zeppelin gems. “For Your Life” is the quintessential Led Zeppelin song, filled with bluesy licks over a catchy riff and dynamic, much-improvised vocals by Plant belting out lyrics that are hard to decipher completely, but with a vibe “felt” to the bone. The song contains nice changes, an interesting bridge, and a precise, simple, and strong beat throughout by Bonham. “Royal Orleans” is a fun and funky tune alledgedly retelling a story involving John Paul Jones and a transvestite.

Launching the second side, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Plant’s guilt-ridden song about bad things befalling him (presumably the car wreck) due to his own actions. The song contains an excellent blues harp solo, unlike anything he had done since “When the Levee Breaks” on Led Zeppelin IV, five years earlier. It is the first of two distinct leads, followed by Page’s own bluesy guitar lead, combined these make up the best part of the song. Much like “Achilles”, this composition would be better if more succinct and less repetitive, but it is still a fine track.

The heart of the second side contains two fine sounding throwback songs. “Candy Store Rock” is an Elvis tribute, which uses the candy store as an analogy for sex in the same fashion that “Trampled Underfoot” used the car on the previous album. It is not a terrible listen but just a little disappointing in the minimalist approach of Page and Jones. Bonham, on the other hand plays a very interesting beat with entertaining variations throughout. “Hots On for Nowhere” is one of the forgotten gems of the Zeppelin catalog, a stop-start rockabilly riff and beat with some nice changes. It is a song with a very upbeat vibe despite the mainly depressing lyrics.

Presence did initially rush to #1 on the Billboard charts (probably due to the band’s popularity alone) but quickly fell and tracks from this album have rarely received airplay. Also, because of it being completely built in the studio, few songs from the album were played live on subsequent tours. Still, despite this initial subdued reception, Presence is an excellent listen that has held up well over the decades and cannot be overlooked by any true fans of Led Zeppelin today.

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Presence | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Presence (1976)

az_6666_Presence_Led%20ZeppelinFrom classicrockreview.com

In late 1975, Led Zeppelin had planned a world tour to capitalize of the phenomenal success of their latest album Physical Graffiti. the band was at the absolute zenith of their popularity with a string on top-selling albums going back to 1969. However, a serious car accident involving lead singer Robert Plant while he was vacationing on the island of Rhodes with his wife, made the tour impossible. Plant was confined to a wheelchair for nearly six months and this tilted the band towards writing and recording a new “unplanned” album. The result was Presence, the least successful album in the Zeppelin catalog commercially and one with very mixed reviews critically. However, Presence is the album that the band themselves consider to be their “most important”.

During his recovery period in Malibu, CA following the accident, Plant began to write some lyrics. He was soon joined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page to further work on these compositions. When enough material had been written, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were summoned to rehearsals in California. The band then migrated to Munich, Germany for recording, all with Plant still in a wheelchair. The studio was small, in a basement, and very difficult for Plant to work in. Further, the band found out that they had just 18 days for the entire production as the Rolling Stones had the very same studio booked for their next album, Black and Blue. As producer, Page pretty much stayed awake for the entire 18 days in order to complete the album in Munich.

The result is, perhaps, the most unusual Led Zeppelin album (although each of their albums are quite distinct). Page developed a cleaner, “twang-ier” guitar sound in contrast to his signature “crunch” riffs of earlier days. Bonham’s drumming is furious and strong with a sound extended from that on Physical Graffiti, while Jones continued his migration from a dynamic blues to that of a more standard rock bass player. As Plant himself admits, his vocals dynamics suffered a bit due to his confinement. Further, he was a bit upset with the band’s management for keeping him from his wife, who was also seriously injured in the car wreck and recovering back in England, mainly due to tax reasons. Still, Robert Plant at 50% is superior to most rock singers and his performance on Presence is far from embarrassing.

The album was completed on November 26th, the day before Thanksgiving, which was a suggested title for the album. This title was rejected in favor of “Presence”, a representative force surrounding the band. The cover artwork features various images of random people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped “object”, a sort of play on the space object in the film 2001.

Presence is the only Led Zeppelin album with neither acoustic or keyboard tracks, as the band made a concerted effort to forge and updated version of their earliest “raw” sound. This strategy succeeds well on the first side but is less successful on the second side as the three songs on the first side are far superior to the four on the second. Still, it is refreshing that the band never lost their capacity for experimentation even with this quickly rushed album.

Unlike most albums which tend to build towards an epic song late on either sides this album kicks off right away with “Achilles Last Stand”, the tour de force of Presence. The song starts with dreamy, flanged guitar intro by Page which gives way to a rapid trigger-like riff that gets variated throughout. It is a true journey of a song lead by Plant’s lyric and vocal telling of his misfortune in the land of the Greek heroes. One flaw with the song is that it lasts just a bit too long and becomes a little repetitive towards the end. It perhaps would have worked better as a 7-minute song than this 10½ minute goliath.

This last point is magnified with the album’s closer “Tea For One”, another extended cut but with alot less action. The truth is, the best part of this 9-plus-minute song is the first 21 seconds when the band does a riff completely out of context with the rest of the song, which is a slow and depressing diddy that wallows in misery and desperately cries for a kick into a higher gear at some point. Some have pointed to the shorter songs on the album as “filler”, but I believe the filler actually lies within the longer compositions themselves by virtue of repetitiveness. Which begs the question – if the band didn’t feel like they had enough material, why not add some older material like they had with Physical Graffiti? We know now that there were some fine, unreleased songs out there like “Travelig Riverside Blues”, “Poor Tom”, and “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”

Royal Orleans by Led ZeppelinRounding out side one is a couple of unique Zeppelin gems. “For Your Life” is the quintessential Led Zeppelin song, filled with bluesy licks over a catchy riff and dynamic, much-improvised vocals by Plant belting out lyrics that are hard to decipher completely, but with a vibe “felt” to the bone. The song contains nice changes, an interesting bridge, and a precise, simple, and strong beat throughout by Bonham. “Royal Orleans” is a fun and funky tune alledgedly retelling a story involving John Paul Jones and a transvestite.

Launching the second side, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Plant’s guilt-ridden song about bad things befalling him (presumably the car wreck) due to his own actions. The song contains an excellent blues harp solo, unlike anything he had done since “When the Levee Breaks” on Led Zeppelin IV, five years earlier. It is the first of two distinct leads, followed by Page’s own bluesy guitar lead, combined these make up the best part of the song. Much like “Achilles”, this composition would be better if more succinct and less repetitive, but it is still a fine track.

The heart of the second side contains two fine sounding throwback songs. “Candy Store Rock” is an Elvis tribute, which uses the candy store as an analogy for sex in the same fashion that “Trampled Underfoot” used the car on the previous album. It is not a terrible listen but just a little disappointing in the minimalist approach of Page and Jones. Bonham, on the other hand plays a very interesting beat with entertaining variations throughout. “Hots On for Nowhere” is one of the forgotten gems of the Zeppelin catalog, a stop-start rockabilly riff and beat with some nice changes. It is a song with a very upbeat vibe despite the mainly depressing lyrics.

Presence did initially rush to #1 on the Billboard charts (probably due to the band’s popularity alone) but quickly fell and tracks from this album have rarely received airplay. Also, because of it being completely built in the studio, few songs from the album were played live on subsequent tours. Still, despite this initial subdued reception, Presence is an excellent listen that has held up well over the decades and cannot be overlooked by any true fans of Led Zeppelin today.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Presence | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Presence (1976)

MI0001859287From classicrockforums.com

For the longest time, I had my doubts about Led Zeppelin’s album “Presence”. I initially judged it on how many easily recognizable songs were in its track listing, without taking the time to really listen to them all. But as I did some research into the songs, I realized that it really wasn’t half bad, and that maybe I had misjudged the album entirely.

The album features numerous great tracks, many of which most non-hardcore fans of Led Zeppelin wouldn’t even recognize. The only one I had heard of before looking into “Presence” was Achilles Last Stand, which I wasn’t really too fond of at the time. But when I got the album, I discovered the greatness that this song held. It was something different from what I was used to in Led Zeppelin’s repertoire: fast-paced, driving beats featuring heavy use of the bass guitar. I often hear from fans of the band that Achilles Last Stand is one of their favorites, but I found a song at the end of the very same album that I enjoyed more: Tea For One.

Tea For One reminded me so much of Since I’ve Been Loving You (from “Led Zeppelin III”), with it’s softer, more mellow sound and the somber electric guitar. One of the best things about these two songs in particular is that, in addition to being so great, they are also long, giving you more to enjoy and appreciate (Achilles Last Stand is over 10 minutes long, and Tea For One is over 9).
But let’s not forget the middle portion of this album. Candy Store Rock was sorta funky, in my opinion, and seemed like another subtly dirty song (akin to Houses of the Holy and Trampled Under Foot from “Physical Graffiti”).

And how about Nobody’s Fault But Mine? When they break into that great jam midway through the song? Fantastic! The harmonica combined with the rockin’ guitar and Bonham’s eccentric and lively drumming, it’s impossible not to love.

Then there’s the ominous song For Your Life, a hard rock song about the dangers of excessive cocaine use, particularly in the music industry. I really felt the highlight of this song was Plant’s vocals. Very soulful and passionate. Seeing as how there wasn’t much for solos, his singing shone through much more. It was classic Plant at its best.

Overall, while still one of my least favorite Zeppelin albums (kinda hard to top greats like “Led Zeppelin I” and “Physical Graffiti”), it proved to be a much better album than I initially expected. It did prove to me that the foursome could still be creative and rock hard even in their later years.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Presence | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Presence (1976)

MI0001859287From Rolling Stone

Led Zeppelin’s seventh album confirms this quartet’s status as heavy-metal champions of the known universe. Presence takes up where last season’s monumentally molten Physical Graffiti left off — few melodies, a preoccupation with hard-rock rhythm, lengthy echoing moans gushing from Robert Plant and a general lyrical slant toward the cosmos. (Give an Englishman 50,000 watts, a chartered jet, a little cocaine and some groupies and he thinks he’s a god. It’s getting to be an old story.)

Physical Graffiti was a penultimate of sorts (“Trampled Under Foot” was the hardest rock ever played by humans, while “Kashmir” must be the most pompous) and the new record certainly tries to keep up. The opening track, “Achilles Last Stand,” could be the Yardbirds, 12 years down the road. The format is familiar: John Bonham’s furiously attacking drum is really the lead instrument, until Jimmy Page tires of chording under Plant and takes over.

Although Page and Plant are masters of the form, emotions often conflict and the results are mixed. A few bars from one piece convince the listener he’s hearing the greatest of rock & roll, then the very next few place him in a nightmarish 1970 movie about deranged hippies.

Actually there is some fine rock on Presence. “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” is strong, while “Candy Store Rock” perfectly evokes the Los Angeles milieu in which the Zep composed this album; it sounds like an unholy hybrid in which Buddy Holly is grafted onto the quivering stem of David Bowie.

Zeppelin’s main concern here is to establish a reliable riff and stick to it, without complicating things too much with melody or nuance. At their best, the riffs are clean and purifying. The two dreary examples of blooze (“Tea for One,” “For Your Life”) may stretch even the diehards’ loyalty, but make no mistake: Presence is another monster in what by now is a continuing tradition of battles won by this band of survivors.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Presence | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Presence (1976)

MI0001859287From blogcritics.com

The band’s first album had a copycat kind of appeal. Recorded over just 30 hours, these songs were presented in the same way Zeppelin would have done them on stage at the time — half rendition, half sweaty tribute. They were, as much as anything, another British referendum on the brilliance of American blues music.

It wasn’t, however, all that interesting.

Parts of Zeppelin’s second album approached their more celebrated late-period brilliance — namely “Whole Lotta Love,” (the much better) “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Ramble On,” which was lyrically linked to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings.

But how’s this for un-revolutionary?: Led Zep was successfully sued for stealing Chicago blues legend Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” without giving any credit, on an “original” called “The Lemon Song” from the second CD. Further, “Bring It On Home” is just Sonny Boy Williamson, though perfectly amped up.

They moved past it. And there’s little doubt that Led Zep found its true inspiration when the band stopped aping the early U.S. traditionalists which it so rightly admired — the bulk of which appears from 1970 on.

What to make, then, of Presence — Led Zeppelin’s underrated seventh release? After all, this unpolished gem from that second period is actually best described as a moment when the band stopped for a longing look back. They never sounded bluesier during a late ’70s period defined by debauchery — when, as Rolling Stone’s Stephen Davis famously wrote in his review of this album, you could “give an Englishman 50,000 watts, a chartered jet, a little cocaine, and some groupies and he thinks he’s a god.”

Davis is talking about singer Robert Plant, of course. But this album belongs to Plant’s doomed drummer John Bonham, and that gives it a slow-rolling menace very familiar to fans of the band’s earliest work.

By 1976, Zeppelin had begun its slow descent, and Plant was recovering from a serious auto accident. Perhaps predictably, they were introspective. But even in what should have been safe nostalgia, Bonham unleashes newfound, and surprisingly subtle, polyrhythms. He now has the ability to quietly improvise on the heaviest of those heavy Led moans — including “blooze” throwbacks like “For Your Life” and “Tea for One.”

A favorite is “Achilles Last Stand”: Bonham, and this is special, works as the lead instrument over roughly the first half of this song. Even Jimmy Page’s patented “army of guitars” sound is no match for Bonham’s charging fills.

He begins by powering an absolutely monstrous template, then delves into jazzy asides — deftly coloring the beat. “Achilles” takes an abrupt turn and we ride with Bonham up to Page’s thundering solo like the clack-clack-clack of a roller coaster … you know, you feel, that something big is going to happen.

Does it ever. They circle back around to the tune’s original chugging, marrow-deep groove. I was zipping along at 45 in a 30 before I knew it, this morning, thinking: I sure miss THIS guy.

Sure, by “III,” the Zeps had shed their then-growing reputation as blues cheats by presenting a sweetly cool-rocking set of mostly acoustic-based tunes — coupled with one of their best album-openers ever, “Immigrant Song.” From there on out, as the band rounded into its best creative period, Zeppelin displayed a newfound versatility and a refreshing willingness (for a so-called “heavy metal” band, anyway) to dabble in various musical forms.

They weren’t sounding anything like the blues musicians they’d once blatantly emulated. No, by then, Led Zep was a completely new synthesis.

But then came this, an album that once again lovingly incorporated their earliest, and most powerful, influences. It was, at last, a true triumph.

Of course, the center of this thing, the hard-charging Bonham, could not hold. He was as committed to drink, it seemed, as he was to the drum. But before Zeppelin fell to pieces, they got together to make Presence.

And there is, inside of this gift, much to love — not least of which is one of the most wicked harmonica solos in all of rock, on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Presence | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Presence (1976)

MI0001859287From sputnikmusic.com

In 1969, Jimmy Page, a seasoned session muscian, decided upon creating a band after an experience in a supergroup, Beck’s Bolero. He picked Robert Plant, from an unknown Band of Joy for lead singer, fellow session musicians John Paul Jones and John Bonham for bassist and percussion, respectively. Even though the band was sure to “fail like a Lead Balloon” they had become one of the most influential bands in history.

Fast foward to 1976. Just after creating Physical Graffiti, Robert Plant had gotten into a car crash in Rhodes and spent his recovery creating the songs which would be grouped together as Presence. This album is unique in all of Led Zeppelin’s discography, as it’s the only one without keyboards nor acoustics. And now let’s begin with the review:

1. Achilles Last Stand – Phenominal. Excellent guitar work by Jimmy Page, he used the same “army of guitars” technique that is used with Blackdog, and it’s used to great effect. John Paul Jones is thumping away with his bass the whole ten minutes, never missing a beat. John Bonham is pounding away with exceptional fury, but keeping a militant theme throughout. Robert Plant sings his best here in my opinion, and the lyrics he wrote are majestic too. It’s ten minutes of bliss to me, and I’d strongly recommend you to buy the album for this song alone. 5/5

2. For Your Life – Bluesey. That sums up the song well enough. Robert Plant is lamenting about drug-addicted friend, and the melody certainly adds to the atmosphere. It’s not bad, but does tend to repeat itself. 3/5

3. Royal Orleans – This song is about a certain member of Led Zeppelin, most likely John Paul Jones, who ends up taking home a drag queen. Royal Orleans itself was a favored hotel of the band. The song starts out with a powerful riff, and is certainly not the norm for Led Zeppelin. Alright song, but like For Your Life it repeats itself. 3/5

4. Nobody’s Fault but Mine – Another great song on the album, this one starts out with a distorted guitar solo, followed by Plant humming to the melody of the riff. Then comes the bass and drums, and we have a song. As the title suggests, this song is about Plant trying to save his soul. Just as this song is about to become stale, Plant goes into a truly wicked harmonica solo. 4/5

5. Candy Store Rock – First real rocker on the album, and this it does well. Lyrics are not Plant’s best, but it’s made up by the guitar pounding nonstop. 3/5

6. Hots on for Nowhere – This is about Plant’s frustrations towards the confinements of his situation and Jimmy Page. It’s the only song of Led Zeppelin’s to have the f-word within, too. “Recycles” the riff from Walter’s Walk, which was written before although released later. Uses an unusual stop-and-start timing, I rather like it. 3.5/5

7. Tea for One – Final song on the album, and it’s a good way for it to close. Goes back to the blues, and is about Plant’s feeling of loneliness from being on the road so much. It’s slow and sad, and while not the most impressive musical technique on the album, it definitely is filled with emotion. Great way to slow down a hectic day, even if it does leave you a bit more reflective in the end. 4/5

With an epic like Achilles Last Stand, and some impressive blues works, this s a must own album for any Led Zeppelin fan. Also, the entire album feels rushed as it was made in less than a year in less than desirable conditions, but that adds a certain flavor that makes this unique. If you’ve been wondering which album to get lately, make sure to pick this one up.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Presence | | Leave a comment