The Song Remains The Same (Remastered & Expanded)

Led Zeppelin

Atlantic/Swansong, 2007

http://www.ledzeppelin.com

REVIEW BY: Paul King

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/27/2007

There’s a memorable scene in Joel Schumacher’s 1994 film The Client where lawyer Reggie Love, played by Susan Sarandon, is challenged to name her favorite Led Zeppelin track by the cocky young kid she’s representing. After giving it some thought she replies “Moby Dick, live version. Bitchin’ drum solo!” The live version she’s referring to is found on the soundtrack album of Led Zep’s bloated and self-indulgent cinematic endeavor The Song Remains The Same.

Re-released in a newly expanded form, The Song Remains The Same CD now boasts a generous total of six bonus tracks not featured on the original release, as well as liner notes from former Rolling Stone editor Cameron Crowe. Originally released in 1976, the album provides a captivating, if somewhat lackluster, snapshot of Led Zeppelin at the apex of their ascendancy to global domination as the biggest, boldest and loudest rock band in the world.

While the film itself is an artless mishmash of candid backstage clips, concert footage and four dubious fantasy sections (one centering on each band member), the soundtrack album thankfully focuses exclusively on the live concert material.

Recorded by legendary sound engineer Eddie Kramer, the music is taken from three concerts the band performed at Madison Square Gardens on July 27-29, 1973. In this new expanded edition, the bonus tracks have been inserted throughout the running order to more accurately represent the set lists from those three nights in New York.

Kevin Shirley, who previously worked on the band’s How The West Was Won live album and 2005’s Led Zeppelin DVD, has worked wonders with the remastering of this album. Gone is the dull, tinny sound of the original album and in its place is a glorious brand-new mix, overseen by the band, that sonically sweetens the album immensely -- breathing new life into what is, it must be conceded, a fairly pedestrian example of the band’s live repertoire.

This reissue, like the original album, opens strongly enough though with a hi-octane rendition of the classic song “Rock And Roll.” Jimmy Page’s revved up guitar howls viciously like a banshee and the explosive fury of John Bonham’s drumming comes on with a sound like a wrecking-ball colliding with condemned masonry. This opening salvo segues effortlessly into the second track “Celebration Day,” not giving the audience time to breathe. As a testimony to how potent the band had become at working the concert format to maximum effect by this stage in their career, it’s an unbeatable one-two combination.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The version of “Dazed And Confused” here clocks in at almost a full half an hour in length and is indicative of the worst musical excesses of the era. Led Zeppelin were never ones to shy away from stretching their songs out to extreme lengths in a live setting, and this track is certainly no exception. It starts off slowly, stirring like some awakening behemoth with John Paul Jones’ leaden bass intro leading the way for Jimmy Page’s chiming harmonics and Robert Plant’s opening vocal lines. Page takes the opportunity during this song to perform his party-trick of playing the guitar with a violin-bow and Plant playfully drops in a few lines from Scott McKenzie’s Summer Of Love anthem “San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair).” It’s during this violin-bow digression in “Dazed And Confused” that you get an opportunity to hear just how consummate a guitarist Jimmy Page really is. This is not just some ego-fuelled showboating but, instead, the sound of a virtuoso musician experimenting with the form and yet always remaining focused on the structure of the song.

Of the new bonus tracks, “Misty Mountain Hop” probably hits the hardest, skilfully weaving the mythology and mysticism of the song’s lyrics around Bonham, Page and Jones’ strident, indefatigable groove. Other highlights are an achingly melancholy rendition of “The Rain Song” and a crowd-pleasing version of the perennial “Stairway To Heaven,” introduced by Plant with the words “This is a song of hope.” The album closes with a disappointingly dull version of “Whole Lotta Love,” which features a cheeky rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Let That Boy Boogie” midway through the song, as if to acknowledge the debt the band owes to the blues.

It has to be said that although this album is a solid enough example of what a Led Zeppelin show was all about, the underlying problem is that The Song Remains The Same doesn’t come close to demonstrating just how incendiary the band could be in concert. Anyone who saw the Led Zeppelin DVD or heard How The West Was Won could attest to that. Many of the performances here are accomplished but somehow lacking in real fire and passion -- a fact the band was acutely aware of, prompting Page to comment upon the album’s original release “Obviously we were committed to putting this album out, although it wasn't necessarily the best live stuff we have. I don't look upon it as a live album...it's essentially a soundtrack.”

Still, with the excellent remastered sound and generous helping of bonus tracks, there’s plenty on offer here for fans looking to upgrade their collection with this new edition. For those just wanting a taste of what Led Zeppelin were like live, this album is reasonable enough, but there are much better examples of the band’s live prowess available on the How The West Was Won CD.

Rating: C-

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