Tragedies that made Zeppelin hit the heights: Reissues of Presence, In Through The Out Door and Coda show band's backs-to-the-walls brilliance, says ADRIAN THRILLS

LED ZEPPELIN: Presence / In Through The Out Door / Coda (Atlantic)

Verdict: Backs to the wall brilliance


They were the hell-raising quartet whose bluesy riffs towered above the classic rock era. But even Led Zeppelin – imperious in the first half of the Seventies – found the second part of the decade hard going.

As this latest batch of re-issues reminds us, however, they were a potent force even when their backs were against the wall. The hunger for gems from the golden years of rock remains strong, and these albums, available individually and buttressed with previously unreleased songs, confirm Zeppelin’s pedigree.

For new converts, the original LPs have been re-mastered by guitarist Jimmy Page. For the more committed fans, reasonably-priced ‘deluxe’ editions combine the original tracks with the unheard songs and new mixes. For real aficionados, there are three ‘super deluxe’ boxed sets.

Jimmy Page, pictured, was a legendary genius in the 1970s with Led Zeppelin 

Jimmy Page, pictured, was a legendary genius in the 1970s with Led Zeppelin 

By the time of 1976’s Presence, Zeppelin were the biggest band in the world. And in contrast to the previous year’s dazzlingly diverse Physical Graffiti, the album saw a return to hard-rocking roots. Made in just 18 days, with producer Page working 20-hour shifts, it still sounds spontaneous today.

This was down partly to circumstance. A car crash on the island of Rhodes had left singer Robert Plant wheelchair-bound, and his vocals are less commanding than on other albums. But, with Page’s scintillating guitar even more to the fore, Presence packs a punch.


Verdict: Eerily prophetic concept album


Roger Waters’ third solo album Amused To Death, meanwhile, is classic rock of a more recent vintage. First released in 1992, it was viewed by the former Pink Floyd bassist – and creative driving force – as a natural sequel to The Wall.

A concept piece with apocalyptic overtones, its songs acted as comments on an entertainment-obsessed society in thrall to its computer screens. It also touched on globalisation, TV evangelism and 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre.

Now re-packaged with new artwork and sound mixes, its subject matter seems more relevant than ever, although the sophisticated studio gloss originally applied by Madonna’s producer and co-writer Pat Leonard now sounds dated.

Waters’ unsubtle lyrics hardly make for light listening, but the songs stand up well. Jeff Beck’s guitar motifs ably replicate the atmospheric hues of Floyd’s David Gilmour, while the backing vocals of R&B stars PP Arnold, N’Dea Davenport and Katie Kissoon bring a welcome soulfulness.

Among the highlights are Watching TV, a duet with Don Henley, and a title track that unites Waters with American country-rock star Rita Coolidge. The robust hook of What God Wants Part I is good, too – although it hardly warrants the superfluous prolonging of the track into Parts II and III.

Opening track Achilles Last Stand is ten minutes long, but gallops by in a blur. An echo of Zep’s first two albums, its energy was a harbinger the wave of younger rock bands, led by Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, that would shortly follow.

With Page’s guitars drenched in special effects, the album was hardly lacking in innovation, even though it was largely a back-to-basics affair: Candy Store Rock was in thrall to Elvis, while the slow blues number Tea For One was about the homesickness of the band’s long U.S. tours. Amid the rough mixes, the bonus material also features a new instrumental in the oddly-titled 10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod), a plaintive piano piece.

Recorded in the aftermath of a tragedy – the death of Robert Plant’s young son Karac in 1977 – the following album, In Through The Out Door was softer and subdued, although its keyboard-led songs stressed the band’s adaptability.

Despite his sorrow, Plant took centre stage, singing of love and loss on All My Love and again summoning the spirit of Elvis on Hot Dog. Page added a slew of exceptional solos, while the 1978 World Cup in Argentina inspired the Latin rhythms of Fool In The Rain.

By their final album in 1982, Zeppelin were no more. The band called it a day after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980 and Coda was a posthumous LP of out-takes dating back to 1968. A bits-and-pieces affair, it remains a rewarding listening experience.

If the original LP sounded like a resume of Zep’s career – from the bluesy I Can’t Quit You Baby to the Fifties rock of Darlene – the bonus tracks are similarly wide-ranging.

There are two completely new songs, with Sugar Mama the pick. An energetic blues jam, it finds Plant on top form. The other new track, St. Tristan’s Sword, is a hard-hitting instrumental.

As well as rough takes, Coda’s bonus discs contain an instrumental mix of the acoustic Poor Tom plus two Zep classics, Four Sticks and Friends, recorded with tablas and sitars in India.

Those pieces were indicative of the band’s ambition. When they formed, their name was coined by Who drummer Keith Moon, a friend who predicted that they would go down ‘like a lead balloon’. As their enduring magic shows, he couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Amused To Death is out now. The Led Zeppelin re-masters are issued today (July 31), with single albums at £10, deluxe editions at £13 and £15 (Coda only), and super deluxe at £100.


ALBERT HAMMOND JR.: Momentary Masters (Infectious)

Usually a real livewire, Strokes guitarist Hammond seemed downcast as the band fell flat in Hyde Park last month (June). This solo effort offers few surprises, but brings some redemption. Made in his converted New York barn, it is dominated by buoyant guitar and jerky rhythms. Coming To Getcha benefits from a Strokes-like solo. But the best song here is a cover, as Hammond tackles Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right with aplomb.


THE MACCABEES: Marks To Prove It (Fiction)

South Londoner quintet The Maccabees make some bold, imaginative moves on an outward-looking fourth album that reflects on the ongoing gentrification of their home turf. Singer Orlando Weeks’s vivid portrayals reflect a growing confidence, with the usual guitars bolstered by gentle brass. The band also look to the Eighties Brit-rock of Echo & The Bunnymen and The Smiths without sacrificing individuality.


GEORGIA: Georgia (Domino)

Like FKA Twigs last summer, singer-songwriter Georgia Barnes is poised to progress from the dance underground towards the mainstream. Blending glitchy, electronic beats with quirky lyrics, the 21-year-old Londoner – who once played football for Arsenal Ladies – augments her tuneful vocals with clattering dance rhythms before adopting a more intimate approach on relationship songs like Heart Wrecking Animals.



The comments below have not been moderated.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

By posting your comment you agree to our house rules.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now