Led Zeppelin

Swan Song, 1976

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If the first half of Led Zeppelin's career was a rocket travelling to new heights, then – at least personally – the second half of the '70s was that same rocket crashing to Earth.

Robert Plant had been seriously injured in a car accident in Greece in the summer of 1975, which left questions at the time as to whether he'd be able to walk again. When he and the rest of Led Zeppelin gathered in Germany to record Presence, Plant was still confined to a wheelchair. What's more, they only had 18 days to record and mix the whole album due to the fact the Rolling Stones had the studio booked after that.

Yes, there was a rush to get this disc done. And, sometimes, it shows, as Presence has always been a bit of a tough nut to crack for this reviewer. Over the years, my position towards it has softened a bit...but it's still not Led Zeppelin at their absolute best.

The album is best known for “Nobody's Fault But Mine” and “Achilles's Last Stand,” both of which prove to be the superior tracks of the seven songs which make up the album. “Achilles's Last Stand” is a flurry of activity nearly from start to finish, book-ended only by Jimmy Page's drone-like guitar riff, which turns out to be the perfect thing. Plant sounds in fine voice, even if he doesn't seem like he's hitting the high ranges like he was just a few short years before (indeed, he was still hitting those notes on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Physical Graffiti). “Nobody's Fault But Mine” seems to have a little bit of a distorted sound overall, which only tends to add to the charm of the track.

Of the remaining five songs, the only one which stands out is the energetic blast that is “Royal Orleans,” almost sounding like something which easily could have been included on Houses Of The Holy in terms of its groove. The remaining tracks – well, they just don't stand out like you would expect them to on a Led Zeppelin album. Page and crew had never resorted to filler material in their career to this point, and I'm not suggesting these songs were filler. If anything, they just don't feel like they were left to bake long enough.

Take “Candy Store Rock,” for example. Featuring one of the more complex rhythm lines that John Bonham had to pound out on his drums, the overall vibe of the track just doesn't have the same emotional pull that the stellar tracks do. Same goes for “Hots On For Nowhere,” which does start off strong and then quickly runs out of gas. “For Your Life,” a song that finally received a live performance during the 2007 reunion concert, merely plods along, never getting the listener excited about what they're playing.

The closing number, “Tea For One,” is especially guilty of this. Led Zeppelin had played slower blues jams before in their career, and this one just feels like it's waiting for someone – Plant, Page, even John Paul Jones – to light the fuse to kick the song up a notch or twelve. Instead, the performance is quiet and laidback...which is not what one would have expected from the mighty Zeppelin.

Make no mistake, there's enough on Presence to justify adding it to your collection. In interviews, Page has admitted that it's not the easiest disc for people to listen to, and knowing all the drama that had gone on prior to its release makes one understand, to a point, why this is so. (Unfortunately, especially for Plant, his troubles were just beginning; tragedy would strike one year later with the death of his son.) But while Presence should be an album for people to celebrate Led Zeppelin's triumph over tragedy – at least the first act – it instead is a template of what could have been.

Rating: B-

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