Swan Song, 1976
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/23/2005
Presence, Led Zeppelin's seventh studio album in as many years, is a mixed bag. The band was under some degree of turmoil, with Robert Plant tending a broken leg (he reportedly sang his parts from a wheelchair) and Jimmy Page and John Bonham in the throes of their various addictions. Additionally, it was cut in record time, their shortest stint in the studio to date.
Following the phenomenal success of the brilliant Physical Graffiti, it's a shame they had to work under that kind of stress. The end result doesn't match the quality of their earlier works, but even a mediocre Zep album can have some great moments.
Case in point -- the opening song "Achilles' Last Stand" is the best on the album, and is one of the finest compositions of their career. This song alone is worth the price of the album, a rampaging fantasy epic showcasing the best of both Plant's lyrics and Page's gift for composition (not to mention his incomparable guitar work). Plant (excuse the pun) plants a seed of irony in the song's title (Achilles' weakness was his ankle / Plant had broken his leg) and the fact that his injury occurred on the island of Rhodes. Despite whatever problems drugs and alcohol might have caused, both Page and Bonham turn in masterful performances on this sprawling 10-minute epic. Bonzo's drumming is relentless and powerful, and while Page has a tendency to ramble, here his playing is intense and focused. Plant's voice is clear and positively soars -- in a lyrical and compositional sense, it belongs alongside songs like "Battle Of Evermore" and "Kashmir" in illuminating Zep's progressive rock tendencies and Plant's poetic lyrical sensibilities.
"Nobody's Fault But Mine" is another excellent track, a muscular exercise in Zep's signature brand of blues-on-steroids. Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones lay down a heavy, lumbering foundation for Page's staccato riffs and Plant's vocal acrobatics. "For Your Life" is another decent bluesy number, albeit a bit derivative of a dozen or so of their earlier songs. A good song to be sure, but not a great song.
The remainder is uneven at best. "Tea For One" goes on way too long without going anywhere, and the slop-a-billy skiffle of "Candy Store Rock" is just bad. "Royal Orleans" is interesting as a curio, but neither it or "Hots On For Nowhere" rise above mediocre.
The two gems here, "Achilles Last Stand" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" belong in the pantheon of Zep's best songs, and fortunately you can get them on a number of compilations. The good tracks on this album are so good that it does bring the whole affair up a few notches, making this a must have for Zep completists only. The rest of you should find one of the compilations that has the highlights from Presence and leave it at that.
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