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Probably the most complete album I've ever heard - now even clearer!
on 26 March 2007
I first picked this album up in 1990, after hearing Jimmy Page play a tantalising snippet of the Kashmir riff on Arena's 'Heavy Metal' documentary.
At that time buying a double lp was quite an investment for a schoolkid on pocket money alone, but I was mesmerized by the mystery around *that* riff and the fact the album looked so unusual. What I couldn't have expected was to seemingly stumble on something so complete and fulfilling, that I would still be returning to it every week for the next 15 years or more.
Each time I listen, I discover a new angle to a song. Another riff, another rhythm track, another vocal line. Zeppelin were truly at the height of their majestic powers when this album was released in 1975.
This is partially a result of a patchwork chronology behind the songs. Some were outtakes from previous studio works ('Houses of the Holy', 'Black Country Woman', 'Boogie with Stu'). Others were adaptations of previous songs, once ditched and now ressurected and re-worked during 1974 ('The Rover', 'Down By the Seaside').
The longest songs are invariably the newest and it is clear that on this album Zeppelin's intention was to define the 'epic'. 'Kashmir' is monstrous, sounding like it has been hewn from the roots of the Earth. It's sister-piece, 'In the Light' adds a darker tone. Then there is the electric storm of 'In My Time of Dying', crackling with intensity, slide guitar, prayers to Jesus and the relentless thunder of Bonzo's drums.
My favourite song (at the moment) is 'Ten Years Gone', a lovesong no less. However this arrangement is probably the most complex and painstaking ever assembled by Page, and the effect is stunning. Multiple guitar overdubs make a plaintive call against Plant's wistful recollections of love once lost.
This is an album of moods - covering the entire spectrum. As well as the epics there is much light relief and plain 'ole rock 'n' roll. 'Custard Pie', 'Sick Again' and most notably 'Trampled Underfoot' with Jones' infectious clavier riff.
The most rewarding album I can think of.
*REMASTERED EDITION AND BONUS TRACKS - 2015 UPDATE*
I think it is fair to say the original CD masters of Physical Graffiti were not perfect. Apart perhaps from In My Time of Dying, the overall sound conveyed in these discs was 'dense' and 'muddy' compared, say, to Led Zep IV, which is bright, clear and airy. Both albums, however were recorded in Headley Grange, so should have had a similar quality. One difference I guess was the increased amount of overdubs used on Physical Graffiti - it created some indistinct overlaps in sound when translated to CD.
I would say these are largely a triumph. From the beginning: 'Custard Pie' has been give a fresh release. The drums are far punchier, the keyboards much more distinguishable from the mix. I am able to really feel the harmonica grind and breathe right at the end. It rocks - where before it might have plodded a bit. Generally this pattern is reflected elsewhere, deeper drum sounds and far better sonic separation. For the first time I can capture the amazing bass work at the end of 'In the Light'. Switch to 'Bron-Yr-Aur' and then 'Ten Years Gone' for delicate panning and complete clarity. Any downsides? Surprisingly, its 'Kashmir' it feels less powerful than its bonus disc companion.
The main event is really the remasters, but it is impossible to resist the temptation to dive straight into the new tracks. These are mainly different mixes of the versions we love, by that I mean different emphasis, rather than completely new takes (with a couple of exceptions). 'Houses of the Holy' is better than the album version: raw and unconstrained, much like how the live Zeppelin, invigorated 'The Ocean' during their stadium tours. Kashmir, brings the orchestra more the fore and uses a deeper drum sound, it is intriguing, perhaps a novelty for now. I love 'Brandy & Coke'. It's the same track, but broken down so you can really hear Jones' clavier and no overdubs. A true joyous revelation. 'Sick Again' is a completely new early working version, just Page and Bonham. Again you can really perceive the gaps into which Page later interweaves his 'guitar army' of overdubs, but at the same time marvel at the raw power of the unstripped song. 'Everybody Makes It Through' will be completely new to many. It's very interesting, but in my view not a patch on 'In the Light', which is a masterpiece of mood, tension and release. The bonuses are well worth the few extra quid.