Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

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1. This is my favorite Led Zeppelin album, and another way of saying that is that this is the only Led Zeppelin I ever care to listen to.

2. The reason has a lot to do with the fact that only three of these songs (or 20%) could be found on Early Days & Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volumes One and Two, which was one of the first five CDs I ever bought (whereas 5 out of 8 of the songs on Led Zeppelin IV could be found on that same compilation (or 63%)).

3. It might seem paradoxical because Led Zeppelin has always represented some of the worst tendencies of rock music, ie. excessive and too much testosterone, so you’d think the excess of a double album containing twice as much testosterone would have me running the other way, but nope.

4. The Rolling Stones get a lot of flak for (ugh) “appropriating” black music using their whiteness to sell it to the masses. Or whatever, I don’t really pay enough attention (half the time, whenever someone uses the term “appropriate” as a criticism, you can mentally check out and not miss much). But with the Stones, you get the feeling that they really do love soul, blues and gospel, and they’re just playing what they love. I don’t hear that with Led Zeppelin on Physical Graffiti and I don’t hear people complaining about Led Zeppelin, who, throughout Physical Graffiti, sound more guilty of appropriation than anything the Stones ever did. Or maybe people have complained about Led Zeppelin and I just didn’t really pay enough attention. Fuck it. (This wasn’t a criticism of Led Zeppelin, by the way; just a note.)

5. The record’s flawed, obviously. Like everyone and their fathers know, you could throw out the last side of the album to no consequence; by track times alone you could tell that this is fillerville, whereas each of the preceding sides had at least one song over 8 minutes in length. Both “The Wanton Song” and “Sick Again” have riffs that sound suspiciously like preceding riffs (“Custard Pie” and “The Rover” suspiciously); “Boogie With Stu” gets a fistbump from me because it has that 80s’ drum sound five years before the 80s, but there’s nothing going on except that drum sound and a discount Nicki Hopkins; “Black Country Woman” is probably the reason why people decided mama wasn’t a sexy way to describe a woman because the song ain’t sexy at all (though it’s actually the best of the bunch), and I literally just played “Night Flight” and I couldn’t tell you what happened so I’m guessing nothing. All five of these songs have their own wikipedia page, while less-famous bands toil to have their better songs rest in forever anonymity, and that is, as far as this Asian is concerned, another reason to hate Led Zeppelin.

6. But the band are surprisingly able to keep the fire going for the preceding ten songs: employing the CRUNCH that people love them for on “Custard Pie,” “The Rover” and “Ten Years Gone” but also diversifying their sound as double albums demand of them with whatever was happening in 1975: the power pop of “Houses of the Holy,” progressive undertones in “Kashmir” and “In the Light,” Stevie Wonder’s funk on “Trampled Under Foot.” And don’t skip “Bron-Yr-Aur” even though you probably think you should: as far as acoustic interludes on canonized rock albums go, this is after Steve Hackett’s “Horizons” on Foxtrot and ahead of Jorma Kaukonen’s “Embryonic Journey” on Surrealistic Pillow. In other words, the killer to filler ratio on this album is better than that of a lot of other canonized double disc albums from the 70s (ie. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, The Wall, Quadrophenia).

7. If it weren’t for the band’s typical bombast and the probably Tolkien-inspired lyrics and the fact that it’s been played to death and everyone already knows who made it, you probably wouldn’t know Led Zeppelin was responsible for “Kashmir”: the Eastern-tinged, infectious and ascending hook was frankly genius and I get the feeling that the people who hate it hate it only for how easy the song seems, but 1) underneath that riff, Jimmy Page and John Bonham don’t ever stop working and 2) half of that song isn’t its riff, even though it doesn’t seem like that’s true. I guess it could have been tighted a bit, with a few instances of when Page isn’t singing and it’s only the riff that’s happening being lobbed off, but that would’ve only saved you a handful of seconds, tops.

8. “In My Time of Dying” and “In the Light,” on the other hand? Those could be trimmed for sure, especially the latter, which is no gestalt. Sure, the intro sounds genuinely menacing; like a war’s about to occur or maybe has just occurred, but then Plant starts singing over top and the atmosphere just crumbles around him (and not on purpose either). Honestly, the song doesn’t really kick in until Bonham does the drum roll and the song’s second riff finally takes shape (at the 4:16 mark), so you could just skip there every time. And if you truly think you’re going to miss that intro or the first riff, don’t fret: you’ll hear them again in the second half of the song anyway.

9. Similarly, “Ten Years Gone” builds towards its climax which occurs exactly halfway through the song such that they could’ve tightened the back end and only gained from the losses. But the journey up to that climax is well-controlled and well worth it, switching from aching riff and solo to CRUNCH and back again, culminating with the bass finally kicking in (and I’m not just talking about the song) and Plant harmonizing on top, both instruments answered by a loud strum on acoustic guitar. That’s the climax. That’s when you can hit skip (and I’m not just talking about the song).

10. “Houses of the Holy” is my second favorite track here, because it’s one of the few times where Robert Plant has ever seemed like he cared about the woman he’s singing about. It’s romantic, even if only vaguely. As opposed to sexual, which Robert Plant never is. That being said, the backing vocals during the song’s second half add nothing.

11. But even better is “Down by the Seaside,” which might be the least under-talked about Led Zeppelin song ever, probably because it doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin was responsible for it at all. Enjoy the psychedelic guitar tone, the country bounce of the bass: like watching the waves come in from the easy chair from the cottage, and when the oscillating riff comes in with Plant crooning over top, it’s like the mushrooms finally activated and you’re flying over the river. And when the band inevitably drop in the heavier section, it’s like dropping back to the ground so you can start dancing.

12. Their most danceable album.

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2 responses to “Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

  1. Still to get into Zeppelin in a big way. The only album I own is IV. Only one that ever got its hooks in … this one is on my ‘listen list. Along with the others, but think this is likely to appeal more.

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