Review Summary: Led Zeppelin's massively underrated swan song
It's easy to see why In Through The Out Door
is so panned by fans and critics alike, as it's not your typical Led Zeppelin record. The album finds the band eschewing their folk-infused blues rock sound and exploring genres as diverse as pop, prog, punk, electronica, Latin, and even country. The reasons for Led Zeppelin's drastic change in sound came largely out of necessity. With Jimmy Page and John Bonham battling severe drug addiction, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant were forced to take helm of songwriting for the first time in the band's history. Led Zeppelin also found themselves increasingly irrelevant in the wake of punk, disco, and new wave. The album's title reflects the band's frustration in trying to re-enter the public consciousness.
While the album did indeed renew interest in the Mighty Zep, and soared to #1 on the Billboard charts within two weeks, it received mostly poor reviews and accusations of selling out. I submit to you that In Through The Out Door is, in reality, an excellent album that wasn't given a fair chance. Sure it's not "classic" Zeppelin, and sure it may take some getting used to, but it's incredibly fresh sounding compared to Presence
, and even parts of Physical Graffiti
, which counts for something in my book. Even if you don't like the album's overall sound, you have to give Led Zeppelin credit for trying something new in their dying days; you can't say the same about many of their contemporaries.
As it turned out, Led Zeppelin had an ace up their sleeve: a horribly underutilized hidden gem by the name of John Paul Jones. Jones simply steals the show on this album, with his keyboard playing dominating almost every track, from the honky tonk playing on South Bound Saurez and Hot Dog to the mesmerizing synth work on Carouselambra and All My Love . His bass playing is excellent as well, particularly on the intro to Carouselambra, proving without a doubt that he is a virtuoso. Despite Jones driving the songs, Jimmy Page's guitar performance is still memorable throughout the album. His twangy country licks on Hot Dog and All My Love are highlights, and his riff in the middle section of Carouselambra is haunting and brilliant. I'm also fond of his classical guitar playing on All My Love, and expressive solo on I'm Gonna Crawl.
After a traumatic series of events, which included vocal injuries, a severe car accident, and the death of his 5 year old son, Robert Plant starting using a more subdued vocal performance on this album, though the last minute of I'm Gonna Crawl proved he could still wail like a banshee. I actually prefer Plant's mellower vocals- God knows his delivery was sometimes a bit too shrill in the past (i.e. Song Remains The Same). His lyrics are a bit silly at points (Carouselambra is totally nonsensical) but at least that shows a lack of self-consciousness. Finally, there's drummer John Bonham. Though he was a raging alcoholic by this time, and would die only a year later, his drums on this album are just as punchy and powerful as he's known for. The album's flawless production certainly helps him shine through, though the reverb is a little excessive.
Overall, this is an excellent album if you're willing to give it a chance. Despite its proto-80s cheesiness, Carouselambra is absolute masterpiece, almost on par with Stairway To Heaven and The Rain Song. South Bound Saurez, Fool In The Rain, and All My Love are well-constructed, catchy pop tunes which tastefully incorporate novel influences from other genres; In The Evening and I'm Gonna Crawl are moodier numbers which balance out the more commercial tracks, and Hot Dog is quite simply the most infectious, toe-tappin' hootenanny of a country song I've ever heard. I would also highly recommend hunting down the three outtakes from In Through The Out Door that appear on Coda- Ozone Baby, Wearing & Tearing, and Darlene. They are excellent songs as well.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
R.I.P. John Bonham