I'm looking for a woman but the girl don't come....
Released on 15 August 1979
Running time 42.30
This album was recorded by an emotionally drained Led Zeppelin, following Robert Plant's car accident and loss to illness of his young son. Drummer John Bonham was an alcoholic by then and Jimmy Page was in the throes of heroin addiction. John Paul Jones and plant were "clean", apparently, although Plant obviously carried a huge amount of personal trauma around with him at the time. Plant and Jones managed to lay down most of the seven tracks before Bonham and Page could eventually be found to come in and do their bits. Amazingly, though, it all sounds pretty cohesive. It would, as everyone knows, prove to be their last album.
1. In The Evening
2. South Bound Suarez
3. Fool In The Rain
4. Hot Dog
6. All My Love
7. I'm Gonna Crawl
"In The Evening" starts in low-key fashion with some Eastern-sounding mysterious and moody ambience before John Bonham and Jimmy Page come crashing in. It is a lengthy Zeppelin classic, showing early on that they hadn't lost it. Lyrically, it has Plant bemoaning his luck. I should say so. "South Bound Suarez" (surely initially mis-spelled as Saurez") is a lively and pleasantly catchy rocker, with John Paul Jones on piano. It has one of those vaguely rhythmic, funky beats Zeppelin enjoyed doing. There are hints of Little Feat in there too.
"Fool In The Rain" has some syncopated Latin-ish rhythms and guitar. Bonham copes with the subtlety required, surprisingly. It is a most un-Zeppelin song. Again, Jones supplies some excellent piano. Plant's increasing interest in world music inspired this song's creation and inclusion. A the end it goes full on "arrrriba"-style Latin, which is very strange to hear Zeppelin doing. Plant had insisted that diversification was the way ahead. I like the track quite a lot. It has a refreshing vitality and light-hearted enthusiasm to it.
"Hot Dog" was a throwaway, three minute piece of fun, showing Plant's love for early Elvis-style rock 'n' roll. It is enjoyable and lively, but sounds very much like a piece of studio fun at the end of a session, once the serious stuff was over. It also features a folky guitar solo in the middle.
All this stuff begged the question of was this Zeppelin's attempt to sound different, in the midst of punk and new wave. Well, the ten proggy minutes of "Carouselambra", with its Emerson, Lake & Palmer" prog rock keyboards from Jones sounded as if it had been recorded in 1973. Bonham's drum pound along reliably, though, giving it a bit of solid rock feel under its symphonic pretensions. This was no threat to any new wave. Plant's voice is, by his own admission, far too low down in the mix. He stated that it summed up everything that was wrong about the later period of Zeppelin's career. "you can't hear the words", he said. He was right too. That said, it is still a good track, actually, featuring several distinct passages. The bass/drum/guitar interplay at about six minutes is my favourite bit (no synthesisers!). The quirky synth bit after that is enjoyable, though, and the way different instruments keep arriving for little solo parts is very "Tubular Bells".
"All My Love" was one of the album's best tracks, an evocative love song composed by Plant and Jones with a laid-back "soft rock" feel, backed by some Genesis/ELO-style classically-influenced synthesisers. Page has since stated that he and Bonham had no time for the track's softer feel and yearning, romantic lyrics. They had wanted a harder rocking album overall. You could see where Plant and Jones were heading with this one, though, trying to catch the neo-classical ELO vibe that was popular around that time. Again, it is certainly nothing like any earlier Zeppelin material, but it is an appealing song. You could hear Plant's voice better on this one too. "I'm Gonna Crawl" also had synthesisers on it, but it also develops into the bluesiest thing on the album and features an excellent bit of mid-song guitar too, and another convincing vocal.
I have read reviews that opine that this was a dark, sombre album. I have to say that I disagree with that. Personally I actually find it their lightest, most "fun" album (strangely, despite everything that had gone on). It was also musically their most diverse thus far. It was not received well by the UK music media, however, with their punk/new wave-centred take on things. The "boring old farts/dinosaurs/time to retire" lines were duly trotted out. The Americans, though, lapped it up. What it was, at the time, was not very relevant to the zeitgeist. Listening to it now, it is fine, but in 1979, it seemed dated.