Led Zeppelin - Presence
Presence marked a return to the purer blues roots of Led Zeppelin. The justification for this was not entirely due to the band's choice. Having taken three years to come up with Physical Graffiti, they were under great pressure from their record company to put out a new album in a much shorter timeframe. As a result, the usual practice of the band to retreat somewhere, experiment and come up with a radical departure from their immediately previous album did not happen at the recordings for Presence. In addition, Jimmy Page's attention was diverted by working on the production for The Song Remains the Same and Robert Plant spent all the sessions in a wheelchair after injuries sustained in a car accident. All in all, not an auspicious start.
The highlight of the album is, without doubt, the opening track, "Achilles Last Stand". This motors along with Bonham's drums and Page's guitar providing the impetus. The lyrics bear the stamp of Plant's fascination with mythology and fable but the haunting guitar intro and outro, fading in and out, is what makes this a highlight. Page says he has forgotten how any overlaid guitars there were on this (I can count eight). Interestingly, the title has nothing to do with the lyrics. According to the tale, the first time Plant heard it he was so impressed he fell out of his wheelchair and as he was in it for an ankle injury, the link between Achilles and Plant's attempt to stand up created the title inadvertently.
Sadly, the rest of the album fails to match up to this. "For Your Life" drags and never seems to get going while "Royal Orleans" seems hugely out of place. Both songs show a marked tendency towards a musical theme of stopping and starting the music. This reaches a peak on "Nobody's Fault but Mine", but that track does not have the seemingly disruptive effect to the flow of the music as elsewhere. Plant's vocals on this are on excellent form, and the mixture of distorted guitars, harp and thumping drums combine to give this a sense of restrained power which is extremely appealing.
After this it all goes downhill a bit. "Candy Store Rock" is Robert Plant's piece de resistance and fails to deliver. "Hots on for Nowhere" manages to deliver a bit better but is still not going to be one of Led Zeppelin's more memorable numbers. In the end, it is left to "Tea for One" to bring the album to a climax. Although frequently written off as sluggish and uninspired, it is a beautiful piece of guitar blues. In later years, the differences between the riffs of this and the classic "Since I've Been Loving You" would become less marked, and stage performances of the latter frequently included solos of the former.
Whether or not the somewhat rushed feel of the album had a significant effect I do not know. The impression is that this is not the album the band would have chosen to put out. To anyone thinking of starting a collection of Led Zeppelin albums I would recommend against beginning with this one. While it will grow on you it is not the best introduction to the band's music. In places it is excellent but there are fillers on this album to a degree not found on anything previous by the band. That ultimately drags the rating down.
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