Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Led Zeppelin - Physical Grafitti (1975)


  

Released February 1975

After a two year hiatus following the slightly underwhelming "Houses Of The Holy", Led Zeppelin were back with what would prove to be, probably, their last truly great album. It was hailed as a "return to form" and it is, in many ways, although it shows them as being keen to vary and experiment considerably with Eastern influences and funk rock grooves. Many of the tracks on the album, though, had been floating around the vaults for years, however, and were resurrected, enhanced and re-recorded for this album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Custard Pie
2. The Rover
3. In My Time Of Dying
4. Houses Of The Holy
5. Trampled Under Foot
6. Kashmir
7. In The Light
8. Bron-Yr-Aur
9. Down By The Seaside
10. Ten Years Gone
11. Night Flight
12. The Wanton Song
13. Boogie With Stu
14. Black Country Woman
15. Sick Again

"Custard Pie" is one of those Led Zeppelin songs with a pretty irrelevant title. No matter, it is a solid, riff, drums and slightly funky keyboards bluesy rocker to open with. More industrial strength riffage and power drums introduces "The Rover", which has a big rumbling bass too. It is a bit of an undervalued Zeppelin rocker. It is the band at their muscular, rocking best, chugging and yet grandiose. "In My Time Of Dying" is, of course the bluesy behemoth of the album, over eleven minutes of piledriving blues rock. The guitar/drum/vocal interplay around the four minute mark is a joy to behold. It does suffer a bit from current trends for sprawling things out, though. True Zeppelin fans would no doubt consider that to be heresy, part-time ones such as myself are allowed to say it though :). I have always been irritated by the "oh my jeeder..." vocal from Robert Plant too. Also the way it grinds to a halt with the "cough" bit, making it sound like a demo. Sorry.

"Houses Of The Holy" gets things back on a firm track with one of my favourites from the album - punchy and yet containing a few funky bits, a great vocal and some excellent guitar. Nice one. The quality continues on the excellent funk rock of "Trampled Under Foot", a track the like of which Zeppelin had not done before. Then we get a copper-bottomed Zeppelin classic in the Eastern-inspired insistent rock of "Kashmir". Lots of superlatives have been written about it over the years, so I won't attempt to add to them.

The proggy "In The Light" takes nearly three minutes to arrive, so to speak. When it kicks in its has a big, deep bassy drum sound and a sensual vocal from Plant. Again, like "Kashmir" it utilises new and adventurous string enhancements. I love the second half of the track where it goes into that anthemic  keyboard-driven bit. When the drums and guitars come along - wow. One of the best Zeppelin passages of music for me. This also marks the point where the atmosphere of the album changes. The best archetypal Zeppelin stuff is now gone. What comes next are some interesting diversions and innovations and changes in ambience. However, there is a case, for me, that ending a single album after "In The Light" would still have been a great one.

Just when "Led Zeppelin III" seemed a long time away, we get the acoustic strumming of "Bron-Yr-Aur" and the country-folk strains of "Down By The Seaside". The latter ends with some solid rock parts, however. "Ten Years Gone" is an affecting, beguiling slow guitar and vocal-driven almost soft rock ballad. "Night Flight" finds the band even going slightly poppy, with a catchy, lively number. It still has some top notch riffs on it, though, although some of them are almost glammy. "The Wanton Song" is a return to typical Zeppelin riffy rock in some style. It would not have been out of place at the beginning of the album.

"Boogie With Stu" was the result of a 1971 jam with the then Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart. It is a loose slice of boogie-woogie piano-led rock 'n' roll, with Plant sounding not unlike Slade's Noddy Holder. Or maybe 1972-era Holder had heard this and sounded like Plant. The track is fun and shows the band's lighter side, something that was not always apparent. The carefree feel continues on the acoustic blues of "Black Country Woman". It also has a "Led Zeppelin III" feel to it, particularly the thumping drum sound together with the acoustic guitar. "Sick Again" is a powerful slice of rock to end this mighty collection of songs. There are "proper" Led Zeppelin fans who no doubt can review this a lot better, but as one who has all their albums but is not an absolute die-hard, I always find this an intriguing and very enjoyable album.

B+

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