Friday, January 4, 2008

Could It Really Soar Again?

I keep thinking of so many things to say about this Zep thing, that I can't even fathom how to put them in order. So here's another entry off the top of my head, which doesn't necessarily follow from the one I posted a few days ago.

Could Zeppelin genuinely soar again? I mean, like even with a new album?

I'm going to offer a qualified yes. To explain:

Bands are packs, and packs have alphas. This doesn't mean that other pack members don't play indispensable roles. For example, without Lars, there wouldn't be any Metallica; yet James is the alpha. Same with U2: The Edge is absolutely indispensable, but...not the alpha.

And sometimes pack (band) alphas change...and when they do, the character of the pack changes. And this is what happened to Led Zeppelin, and it's why, even if John Bonham hadn't died, they probably would have broken up not long after, or at least, really begun to suck big-time. What I mean is, after "Physical Graffiti", Zeppelin's alpha - Jimmy Page - began a self-(read "drug-")induced evaporation. The next album, "Presence", is the document of a band in transition: Page was no longer the captain of old, but no other had stepped up to fill the void. And "In Through The Out Door" is the first Zeppelin album with its new alpha - Plant, aided by his new first lieutenant, Jonesy - at the helm. (Supposedly, Page and Bonham didn't even show up for most of the daily recording sessions).

"Presence", it need hardly be said, is a bleak record. Every other Zeppelin album before that contained elements of a sort of joyful, if not sociopathic, riotousness; but "Presence" is the after-party. It's some lonely guy sitting alone with a needle hanging out of his arm, in a cold, windowless room, with one bare sixty watt bulb providing the sole means of light. There was some of the old magic there - "Nobody's Fault But Mine", for example - but me, it sounds grey...jaded...weary. A drag.

The problem with "In Through The Out Door" is its lapses into unforgivable "muso" musical inanity. As it happens, previous Zeppelin inanity seemed, somehow, tolerable, even charming. (Like the bizarre live Plant ad libs on "The Song Remains the Same": "Twenty nine! Twenty nine!", "PUSH! PUSH! OOOOOOOOOOOOO PUSH!". At times, Plant sounded like a chipmunk in labor...but somehow, it seemed okay). But "In Through the Out Door"'s inanity reaches new, intolerable depths.

Let's take the song "Hot Dog", for example. Actually, let's NOT take "Hot Dog", except to say it may very well be the dumbest song Zeppelin ever recorded. "All My Love" seems pretty insipid to me - just not Zeppelin. "Carouselambra" - this is what happens when Jonesy gets a new synthesizer and starts trying to write his own songs. "South Bound Suarez" - way too chirpy. (My favourite moments on the record are the guitar solos on "Fool in the Rain" and "I'm Gonna Crawl"). "In the Evening" could have been a genuine classic with its cool riff...but - and this is another big problem with both "Presence" and "In Through the Out Door" - Plant had lost his voice, and sounds pretty bad on it. Plus, the whole thing is (uncharacteristically) drenched in reverb, which sort of ruins it. What can I say? Led Zeppelin was ALWAYS Page's band - and when he began to disappear....well, so did Led Zeppelin.

My buddy Kevin Kane (from the 80's Canadian pop band "The Grapes of Wrath") and I received a bitter reminder of the changed pack dynamic when we went to see Plant and Page at the Vancouver Coliseum in May of '95. The first moments of the concert were like an electrifying religious experience: the lights went down, and all of a sudden, the first notes of "Thank You" (from "Led Zeppelin II") rang out, and in the next instant, there was Pagey, leaning back, playing his sunburst '59 Les Paul, all alone, aglow from a lone spotlight. Totally electrifying.

Yet the rest of the show was like "The Bob Plant Egyptian Review, with special guest Jimmy Page relegated to playing rhythm guitar, with Porl Thompson of the Cure playing most of the leads". WRONG!!! What was Plant thinking? Page, for a lot of the show, didn't even have a spotlight. He was in the semi-darkness off to the side of the stage, with Plant upfront next to Thompson. And one of the most infuriating parts of the show was that Plant had THOMPSON, not Page, playing all the "chicken pickin'" leads on "The Song Remains The Same"!

I said to Kevin: "All I wanted to do was see Page try to play this stuff once - you know - once, before he dies! I don't care if he misses every note. I just want to see the guy play these songs! I DON'T WANT TO SEE PORL THOMPSON PLAY THEM".

And while I'm talking about this show, I might as well say that the OTHER horrific moment of the show was when Plant, with a tone of great self-satisfaction, announced that they were going to play a song from "one of the seminal bands of the 1980's - The Cure!". We're sitting in the Vancouver Coliseum with 20,000 stoners who spent their entire high school careers BEATING UP Cure fans - and Plant wants to play a CURE song? "PLAY A ZEPPELIN SONG, YOU DOLT! LED ZEPPELIN!". And to make it even worse, it was one of those early Cure album tracks. It was like eight minutes of A minor to F, at a really slow pace. I love The Cure, but....come on. There's a time and place.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I think that Zeppelin could do another fantastic album IF (and only if) it is Page's band again. Not Plant and Jones's. If Page doesn't have it together, if he can't keep Plant's constant "wink wink I get how goofy we used to be" thing from destroying it all, it could be huge. Chances seem small; Plant - never short on ego - would have to let Jimmy steer the album. And after thirty years of calling all his own shots, that might be tough.

Can you imagine, though, a new record? And Jonesy - he's invaluable as long as he's doing his proper thing, under Page's could be incredible.

More later, gotta go to sleep.



erlybird said...

Oh, great. Now I can't listen to In Through the Out Door without thinking of it as something like Jane Goodall would write to foretell extinction of the Highland Gorilla!

Really good stuff, Tal.

By the way, when my sister won a half million clams in an internet trivia contest several years ago, one of the questions during her march to victory was "What was Led Zeppelin's final album?" When the question was passed onto my father he wondered aloud, "Someone took pictures of airships?"

Craig said...

I heard a bootleg of the Zep show in London and it sounded really good. I was expecting the worst (Live Aid) and was pleasantly surprised. Plant can't hit the notes he used to, but the guitar sounded good. Page has had problems for years with inconsistent live performances, but from what I heard (and the sound quality was not perfect) he did better than I've heard in a long time.

As for new material, I just don't know. Can you every be as hungry as you were at 21?

I like All of My Love because it was an epitaph for Plant's son. I'm just sentimental, I guess.

Leslie said...

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this will happen

Phil said...

Hi Tal,

So I just discovered your blog today! And am just catching up on what you've written, and saw these two pieces you did about that old band and the concert they played last December.

It's been 6 months since that happened, and since you've written these. I have a copy of an amateur video taken from the performance at the O2 that night in London (no, i wasn't there, didn't win the lottery ticket). I'll just say categorically, best Kashmir EVER.

Anyway, 6 months later, it doesn't seem likely that the airship will fly again. Bob is touring around with Miss Krauss, and the stuff they're doing is actually pretty good, and no indication that he wants to play with the old band again, much to my bitter disappointment. I'm ready to fly anywhere on the continent and spend thousands of dollars for whatever it takes to put me in an arena where they are playing. But these days during interviews when Plant is asked if he's going to tour with his old mates, he pretends to fall asleep and starts snoring... and on another occasion answered, "The Golden Gods are done."


It's a shame. The three Js (Jimmy, Jonesy, and Jason) have actually recorded material in a studio! Apparently they are waiting for a time when Robert will be willing to lay some vocals. But it doesn't look promising that it's going to happen; and meanwhile, tick tock tick tock... ya know?

You're absolutely right... it can only work if Robert will defer to Jimmy. I hold a small glimmer of hope. We'll see...

Keep writing...