You, me, the music, and me.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Swan Song 79 00511 (1982)

As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time in the not too distant past when it was considered not cool to like Led Zeppelin. The four-man blooze-metal outfit from Britain was never a critics' favourite during its lifetime, and by the time punk rock broke out in the late seventies, Zep was considered out of touch with current musical trends and was being referred to as a "dinosaur" band. How ironic, then, that punk rock should eventually give birth to "alternative" music, in turn paving the way for the "grunge" sound of the nineties, which owed a heavy sonic debt to... Led Zeppelin!

Coda is an odds-and-sods compilation released after the death of drummer John Bonham, which effectively ended the band's career together. I'd like to take this opportunity to note that, in my opinion, the fact that the band didn't try to continue on with a replacement shows a lot of class. The fact that the remaining members never, ever worked together again under the name Led Zeppelin shows even more class. (Are you listening, Pete Townshend?) The album feels like a loving memorial to Bonham's memory; his drums are front and center in the mix, and "Bonzo's Montreux" is a solo track credited to the "John Bonham Drum Orchestra" with electronic treatments by guitarist/producer Jimmy Page (whose production work on this album is absolutely terrific; every track sparkles and slams).

Usually with albums like Coda there is a fair amount of throwaway material to be found, but every song on this album is a keeper; "We're Gonna Groove" is a barn-burner recorded in 1969 that actually cuts most of the music on their good-but-generally-overrated self-titled first album, while "Walter's Walk" is an ominous rocker from 1972 that features a stunning minimalist solo by Page that shows what the right guitarist can do with only four notes. There's a raucous, almost drunken-sounding rehearsal take of "I Can't Quit You Baby", recorded during sound check at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970, that once again outdoes the original. "Wearing and Tearing" (from 1978, probably recorded during the sessions for In Through the Out Door, their last proper studio album) is a stomper that slams so hard near the end it sounds like it could fly apart at any minute, with singer Robert Plant screaming "Medication! Medication!" amidst a dizzying whirl of guitars and drums.

For their last hurrah, Led Zeppelin managed to put together a final album that could stand proudly with their previous output and that provided a fitting epitaph to their career together. They also showed that they could play just as hard and fast as any band of that era. Not bad for a bunch of dinosaurs.


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