Led Zeppelin (Deluxe CD Edition)
Atlantic Catalog Group
News that Jimmy Page would be remastering/re-releasing the first three Zep albums as part of yet another reissue campaign was either met with shrugs of indifference or fan-boy squeals. Far more interesting, surely, is that Robert Plant is working on new material with a kick-ass band and acknowledging his back-catalogue through reworked live performances, there’s the sound of someone moving forward, not treading water in dragon pants.
I bought the Led Zeppelin catalogue one time on CD already, I have most of what I want on vinyl (almost all of the albums) and I’m not all that interested in slightly tidied up cherry-picked pieces from bootlegs that have been circulating for year (the bonus discs). But I say all of that and fuck me this first album is amazing – and it probably took the reissue campaign for me to acknowledge that. It wasn’t the first Zep album I heard and though it has, for some time, been one of my favourites, it’s taking the time to sit down with it – in its new clothes, now as revered artefact – that the full depth of just how astonishing it is can be taken on board as something to marvel. Here were four young guys on their first album and a few bad lyrics aside, a few stolen blues songs too, they never sounded quite this vital. It’s an amazing set of tunes and there are a handful of the band’s best – most popular – tunes as well as a few almost-secret thrills. One of Page’s best solos is on I Can’t Quit You Baby – what about the booze-charged spy-music thrill-ride of the rhythm section on How Many More Times, the virtuosity and boldness of Page across, well, Dazed and Confused, Black Mountain Side, I Can’t Quit You Baby – the wonderful lurch of the band. This poised blues unit, this preternatural heavy metal combo, this psychedelic pop band too (Your Time Is Gonna Come, Dazed and Confused). My god, it’s all here. All horrendously good!
And though it is just Jimmy making money – and you do indeed wonder how many more times – it does sound fucking good. So much better than my done-to-death/never-that-great-sounding “remastered” CD boxset.
But then, do I care about the bonus disc? Am I bothered? A squealing, horrid, breakneck Good Times Bad Times/Communication Breakdown double – from the fabled Paris 1969 show (which I already have elsewhere) – that might seem wonderfully manic but isn’t a patch on the studio recordings. Another interminable version of Moby Dick when the studio cut from the second album is all you’ll ever need as far as that’s concerned; decent stormers of You Shook Me and How Many More Times but you have the rippers on the first album anyway.
Like most of the flotsam and ephemera that gets packaged up to really “sell” the reissue to you you’ll listen to these once, maybe twice as with wide eyes you try to sell it on to a friend or two, but then you’ll leave it in the cover, rip the first disc to your iPod and justify the extra expense because you’re really a fan, man!
Incredible music – and anyone who says otherwise is a pissed up clown. But the bonus-disc scam is a nonsense really, you don’t need it. And in some cases I’m happier with my $2 second-hand Zep LPs replete with pops and hiss. I’ve lived with those longer. They mean more to me. I’ve never owned the first Zep album on vinyl though – so it was a treat to hear this album again. It had been a while. It’s a frighteningly assured debut.
But don’t buy it again if you have it. Buy something – anything – else. That’s how the world of music should work. If you’re replacing a worn/lost copy then fair play to you. But otherwise, so long as you’re not getting silly new Black Keys or Jack White albums you should try something that’s not this.