Swan Song Records, 1982
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/30/2000
Ever since I can remember, people have been dumping on Coda, the 1982 release from Led Zeppelin that tried to bring closure to the legend of the band. The group had suffered the loss of John Bonham after his death in September 1980, choosing to loyally close up shop instead of trying to replace someone who was irreplacable.
People have called Coda a "barrel-scraping" album that tried to release the final dregs from their history. There are times that I think I'm the only soul out there who actually likes this album - to the point that I have thought if this was considered unreleasable at the time, one wonders how much magic got erased over the years.
Now, I'll admit that this isn't a perfect album. First, clocking in at around 32 minutes, it's terribly short and it tends to undercut the legend of Led Zeppelin a bit due to its brevity. I don't know why the band chose not to put tracks like "Travelling Riverside Blues" on this disc (though I'm guessing it had something to do with licensing from the BBC), and I've heard talk about an unfinished instrumental called "Swan Song."
But I can't judge this album on how I wish it was; I have to look at what we're presented with. The brevity issue notwithstanding, Coda turns out to be quite the pleasant earful. From the frantic guitar work of Jimmy Page and the metronome-on-speed drum work of Bonham, "We're Gonna Groove" gets you into the mood real quick. One has to wonder why this track never made the cut for Led Zeppelin II; it seemed to fit the atmosphere that album tried to capture.
However, I can understand why some tracks might have been left off of releases - at times, they just didn't seem to fit the mood of the overall album. "Walter's Walk" appears to be from the Houses Of The Holy era, and it really doesn't sound like it would have fit in well. Same goes with "Ozone Baby" and "Wearing And Tearing," both tracks recorded during the In Through The Out Door sessions in 1978. These sound like they would have been more at home on Physical Graffiti or Presence.
This is not to say that these tracks are weak in any way. "Poor Tom" is a killer track that focuses on the acoustic vein and some kinetic drum work, while "Ozone Baby" and "Wearing And Tearing" both rock out, balls to the wall, proto-punk anthems that could only have been a response to that burgeoning movement. The only track I've never developed any warm feelings toward is "Darlene," another In Through The Out Door cut - and the one track that highlights the work of John Paul Jones.
You might notice I haven't mentioned Robert Plant yet. His magic is felt throughout the album, though nowhere near as powerful as the soundcheck version of "I Can't Quit You Baby," a track that showed (in pre- BBC Sessions days) that Led Zeppelin had a better live presence than The Song Remains The Same captured. (Memo to Jimmy Page: maybe now is the time to bring out the video of the group's 1979 Knebworth performance. A few songs on the Led Zeppelin DVD just whets the appetite for more.)
The star of the album, though, is Bonham - and his presence on the scene is showcased in his drum orchestra number, "Bonzo's Montreux." Bonham was a percussionist extraordinaire, and the way he was able to layer drums on this track reminds us how much he is still missed.
Is Coda the ultimate farewell album that Zeppelin could have put out? Admittedly, no - but it's hardly the vinyl doormat that some critics want to make it out to be. Maybe consider this the album that highlights tracks that were ahead of their time during certain phases of the band's career... and proof that Led Zeppelin could rock the walls to their foundations, even if it wasn't their so-called "A-list" material.