The double album. A rare and exquisite example of a catch twenty-two at it’s most indulgent. The double album is a project that many a band have attempted to tackle, at their own peril, mind you. Failure to produce a work of genius in this horrific format could very well be the last failure (or move) of your career. The stakes are obviously very high, and apparently very tempting. Ever since 1968’s The Beatles
(or The White Album
, as it’s is commonly referred to), many bands have felt pangs of desire to attempt to emulate the success achieved by that mythical album. Even with all of the landfalls that can ensue as a result, many attempt the endeavor anyway. And why not" Should you be successful with this godless album format, wide reverity and cult-like praise most definitely await you. It is a project only for the most daring, and strictly for the suicidal. Bob Dylan pulled it off. So did The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hell, George Harrison enjoyed massive success with a triple album. But arguably the most successful of all (excluding The White Album
for obvious reasons), was Led Zeppelin’s sixth effort, entitled Physical Graffiti
The musical revolutions of disco and punk rock had yet to take hold in the mainstreams consciousness. If anything, 1975 was a year geared more towards the kind of rock that Led Zeppelin and other big name acts such as Pink Floyd had been pioneering for some time already. With albums such as Houses of the Holy
and Dark Side of the Moon
, the stakes were upped, and a race was on to see who would cash in first. As luck would have it, Led Zeppelin beat everyone to the punch with their not-so-mammoth double-album. Why would you refer to Physical Graffiti as “not-so-mammoth”"
Quite honestly, the album is only fifteen tracks long; hardly enough songs to compromise the need for two separate discs. However, acknowledging that many of these songs stretch the eight-minute mark, it is almost impossible for the album not to exude an epic feel. And of course, with vacancies filled by songs such as the immortal Kashmir
, the pedestal that Led Zeppelin was already placed on grew in size, leaving acts like Aerosmith to shine some shoes. With an opening song like Custard Pie
, one would be inclined to wonder just where the album is going. All of the hype that adorns it is widespread and rather incessant. However, if you wait through the rather slight offerings that Custard Pie
attempts to seduce you with, by the very next track you shall be most graciously rewarded.
Indeed, The Rover
is without a moments’ hesitation the quintessential Led Zeppelin song. Minor-key rock riffs saturate the thumping groove laid down by Bonham and John Paul, allowing Robert time to sing about something other than lemon juice. And, instead of a solo that drones on but goes nowhere, Jimmy provides perhaps his most lyrical solo ever, second only to Stairway to Heaven
. To the same first time listener, a song such as this would more than likely represent fantastic things on the horizon for what many feel to be Zeppelins’ finest hour. While I adamantly and vigorously concur with such statements, at the same time I feel obliged to oppose them. You see, as with all double-albums, Physical Graffiti
obviously is going to house some filler. Unfortunately, as opposed to siblings like the aforementioned White Album
, this one simply lacks the amount of tracks needed to make up for it. While The White Album
offers some truly horrid songs, it makes up for it with undeniable classics, and loads of them. While Physical Graffiti
provides monstrously amazing songs, at the end of the day, there are still only fifteen tracks, of which a portion are wholly unnecessary. With that said, the tracks that do live up to their billing do it very well. In the Light
builds from a slow, vaguely Scottish sounding folk-type tune to a dark, brooding rock one, before completing the transformation and taking on a poppy, almost Hello, Goodbye
-like chorus refrain. Likewise, Trampled Underfoot
maintains some form of epic-ness in its’ mighty, funk rock. Even if it lacks any conversion when compared to a massive song like Kashmir
, you can’t help but admire the way Trampled
is constructed, especially after Zeppelin’s first attempt at funk (we all remember The Crunge
, don’t we").
In 1973, Led Zeppelin released their most ambitious album up to that point in the poignant, foreboding, and everything in between album Houses of the Holy
. While said album went on to be Zeppelin’s first number one in America, it was still missing something. What it was missing was its’ title track, a track that Physical Graffiti
now calls “family”. Indeed, the song would have done most fantastically on the 1973 smash, but in retrospect, the fact that it was placed on Physical Graffiti
serves it better in the end. Aside from its’ own musical merits, which include bouncy, fun pop-rock and contagious melodies, it serves as a fantastic bridge between the monstrous blues epic In My Time of Dying
and the funkified Trampled Underfoot
. While the band was obviously perfecting more diverse musical styles, rock was not abandoned, and on songs like Ten Years Gone
, the band proves it. More proof is offered by the flat-out heavy The Wanton Song
, which also provides a hint of funk and a trifle of jazz, as well.
Even though the group was rapidly evolving into an unstoppable rocking monster (and indeed, had been since their second album), Jimmy Page obviously still felt very comfortable in the company of delicate vibrations courtesy of an acoustic guitar. While folk pieces had been part of the Zeppelin repertoire since their debut in 1969, it is arguable, and very likely, that the Page never turned in anything as mesmerizing as the two-minute long solo piece Bron-Yr-Aur
. Open C-6 tuning is not a tuning you’ll find often employed by a rock band, and as such one might be led to the belief that the guitarist who dos dare to attempt it doesn’t quite grasp what they’re doing. Well, that belief simply doesn’t hold water when applied to Jimmy Page, as the song is impossible to describe as anything but tranquil, and in the purest since of the word. Not even Yesterday
could hold a candle to the feat achieved by Jimmy Page and a Martin acoustic guitar.
It’s true. There were many other ambitious acts releasing albums at the time. Bob Dylan offered his masterpiece Blood On the Tracks
. Pink Floyd gave us Wish You Were Here
. And of course, a little band called Queen decided the time was ripe for a bohemian rhapsody. While all of these albums are obviously classics in their own right, what they are inherently lacking is this: John Paul Jones. You may argue that John Entwistle was better. Iluvatar may insist that Geddy Lee just kills him. Even if these points are true, the former has something that the latter two don’t, and that’s diversity. While John Paul can play a mean bass, he has also been known to be a master of the mandolin, the keyboard/piano/mellotron, the clavinet, pedal-steel guitar, the koto ( Japanese stringed-instrument), and the cello. While such an extensive array of instruments do not show up on Physical Graffiti
, John Paul Jones (who is really named John Baldwin) does showcase his diverse talent in songs like Kashmir
, in which he builds an orchestra out of his mellotron and counters Jimmy’s distorted riff with an accomplished counterpart. John Bonham is also in top form, displaying massive chops during the climax of the eleven-minute long ambitious In My Time of Dying
. Together, these two makeup a rhythm section that could put most others to a complete and permanent shame; one which, depending on the severity of the beating, could entail public castration. Right on.
As mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon to find hoards of filler residing in the crawlspace of any double-album. No matter how epic Physical Graffiti
is, no matter how bubbly Down By the Seaside
makes you feel, the album and its’ creators still have to own up to songs like Boogie With Stu
, which bears a striking resemblance to the groups’ earlier hit Rock And Roll
, though solely in the chord progression. While obviously the result of improvised jamming and nothing truly spectacular, the song does deserve an honorable mention just for featuring Ian Stewart of the Rolling Stones, who lends his boogie piano talents to the track, as well as providing the idea for the tracks’ title. While Boogie With Stu
may offer some charm (some), Black Country Woman
is completely lacking any, and is all-around just a bore, as well as being a text-book definition of the word “filler”. While it is original and the playing is distinguished, the band had apparently forgotten what a hook was, and how to use one in musical form.
So. My attempts at summing up the album may not have aided you as they should have. You may still be teetering about the album. You may still be vehemently denying the need for it, while clutching a prescription (""") of Prozac in one hand and The White Album
in the other. Rest assured, this album will serve up something to your delight, provided of course you sincerely enjoy music. If you still can’t decide, borrow it from a friend, download it, whatever. Do what you need to do to hear this album, as it is
considered Led Zeppelin’s magnum opus for a reason. And while it is true that filler makes itself known, and it is also true that the album doesn’t recover from this as well as The White Album
, the songs that are heavily praised most definitely deserve it, as many of them are the best of the bands’ twelve-year career, and proficiently sum up what Led Zeppelin was all about. Go on, buy it. Regret is for squares.
Everlasting replay value
Not overly expensive
Zeppelin’s finest hour