This is a masterclass in how you slag off an album. Even if you like this album, you must admit that the trashing done by Mr. Murray is utterly great. If I made an album of music that someone didn`t like – this is how I would like to be told. Almost a piece of art this one. Have a nice read!
How a stampede of rogue elephants missed me by inches
By Charles Shaar Murray
Led Zeppelin: Presence (Swan Song)
Zep albums are like Sherman tanks or platoons of charging elephants: stand in front of one of those, baby, and you best believe you`ll know that something`s just run you over.
“Trampled Underfoot” wasn`t just one of the Zep`s most psychotically irresistible wrecking-ball riffs; the title was the keynote to the entire Led Zeppelin experience.
With “Presence”, the hand-brake`s off the steamroller again and someone`s just chewed through the rope that keeps the rogue males corralled; only this time instead of being right behind the eight ball waiting for the apocalypse to come and swallow you whole, you`re sitting pretty up on a nearby hill with a Thermos flask and a bunch of sandwiches wrapped up in wax paper watching the carnage below in relative comfort and worrying about the ants in your socks.
In other words, I thought my razor was dull until I heard this album, and that reminds me of a comparison that`s so specious I`m ashamed to even think of it myself. Lemme explain.
If – strictly for the purposes of argument – we accept the analogy of hard rock as musical incarnation of feisty rough`n tumble streetfighter, then Led Zeppelin are beginning to bear an increasing resemblance to some hard-as-nails ex-Commando unarmed combat instructor who could undoubtedly take out our imaginary street-fighting yobbo in four seconds flat and be calmly picking his teeth by the time his adversary stopped twitching.
In terms of all matters relating to expertise, and even “feel” in its primary sense – for reference, check out all those funk bands who`ve mastered every single known “funk” device but are so well-oiled and precise that they`ve long ago ceased to be funky in the real as opposed to formalised sense – Led Zep can, quite effortlessly, piss from a great height over any competitors within a Marshall stack`s range of them – not that there are that many to begin with.
I mean, nobody has the orgasmic macho bit down anywhere near as well as Mr. Plant. There ain`t a drummer alive with John Bonham`s pace, time or shoulders. I can`t think of a single bass player who could hold down John Paul Jones` gig without fumbling the ball by either trying to get flash or failing to carry the weight.
As for Mr Page… sheeeeeiiiiit! He`s as near to absolute storm centre as you can get without being either a genius (vide Hendrix), a dangerous loony (Beck) or a musical kamikaze pilot (James Williamson of the Stooges, Wayne Kramer and Sonic Smith of the MC5).
The capacity for organisation which is one of Led Zep`s greatest collective strengths – i.e. when it allows them to marshal their admittedly awesome resources to the utmost – carries with it the seeds of their greatest failings:
the radiation of an unmistakable aura of calculatedness which mars totally the spontaneity – or, to be more precise, the illusion of spontaneity – which is essential if a piece of rock and roll is to be anything more than mere weightlifting, if it`s going to transcend calisthenics, or even gymnastics, and achieve the dimension of dance or sex or violence – anything as long as it provides an analogue of something real.
First the good news.
“Presence” is solid, non-stop, copper-bottomed, guitar-bass-and-drums Led Zep rock and roll.
No mellotrons, no acoustic guitars, no boogies-with-Stu, no-hats-off-to-Harper, no funk or reggae piss-takes: just mercilessly methodical two-fisted pounding Led Zep for the entire duration.
Now the bad news.
There ain`t one single candidate for the Led Zep All-Time Killer Hall Of Fame in the whole caboodle.
Right from the beginning the Zeps have been hauling irresistible cranial lightning bolts from out their grab-bag.
From hats of seemingly infinite capacity they`ve conjured sixty-ton rabbits like “How Many More Years”, Communication Breakdown”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “Dazed And Confused”, “Moby Dick”, “Thank You”, Immigrant Song”, “Black Dog”, “Rock And Roll”, “Stairway To Heaven”, “Trampled Underfoot”, “Kashmir”, etc., etc.
There`s nothing on this album that leaves any residue after the first play.
The album`s best stroke is “Nobody`s Fault But Mine”, with a waving forest of overdubbed phased guitars, muscular jostling bass and drums and Plant alternately howling over the band and moaning in the pauses – a la “Black Dog”, he added as an afterthought.
It`s credited to Page and Plant, which would come as a considerable surprise to Blind Willie Johnson, who was under the impression that he wrote the song in 1928.
Nick Kent told me one time that when he did his first-ever Jimmy Page interview he raised the point that many alleged Page-Plant songs – notably “Whole Lotta Love”, “Bring It On Home”, “The Lemon Song”, “Black Mountain Side” and “In My Time Of Dying” – are either traditional or else straight lifts from the likes of Willie Dixon; Page got extremely defensive.
As well he might – if Blind Willie were still alive and had a good lawyer, he`d be along to collect his dues.
The royalties that Skip James got from Cream`s “I`m So Glad” – Clapton not only gave him his full composer credit but personally made sure that he got the bread – enabled Skip to die in relative peace and comfort, a fact attested by his widow.
Any rock and roller who steals from a bluesman is an asshole.
I hope Elvis Presley had a few sleepless nights after Arthur Crudup died in poverty without ever seeing one penny in royalties from “That`s All Right Mama”, and I would think that by now Jimmy and Percy could afford to pay Willie Dixon his dues for “Whole Lotta Love” and “Bring It On Home”.
(Anyone desirous of checking out these assertions need look no further than Sonny Boy Williamson`s “Bring It On Home” and a Muddy Waters track called “You Need Love”, which is “Whole Lotta Love” with a slightly different beat, but the same lyric and melody and almost the same riff.)
“Achilles` Last Stand” (presumably a reference to Plant`s temporary cripplehood at the time of writing and recording) gets its head down and charges remorselessly ahead, “For Your Life” is a grunt`n-stutter job in both the vocal and riff depts, “Royal Orleans” is short and sharp, “Nobody`s Fault But Mine” has already done bin dealt with, “Candy Store Rock” hustles and stabs, “Hots On For Nowhere” is vaguely swing-ish (i.e. what Glenn Miller would`ve sounded like if he`d been a murderously heavy four-piece rock band), and “Tea For One” has the pace, feel and licks of a slow blues but isn`t.
Sha da da da da yip yip yip yip mum mum mum mum sha da da da da…
“Presence” falls into the back row of the Zep canon (“Led Zeppelin”, “Led Zeppelin II”, “Led Zeppelin IV” (the runes album) and “Physical Graffiti” being the front-runners and “Led Zeppelin III” and “Houses Of The Holy” being the runners-up).
It represents yet another demonstration of the band`s mastery of form and an all-time low in the content department. Someone (I can`t remember who, but my mother used to keep quoting it to me) once said that genius is ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration.
“Presence” is the proverbial ninety-nine and forty-four hundredths perspiration.
Mitigating circumstances: I don`t think anybody else could do anywhere near as well with this material, and I`m sure that Zep can slaughter any rock audience that you or Peter Grant or any promoter currently functioning can assemble with this stuff.
But the sad fact remains that despite the excellence of the playing, singing and production, “Presence” never gets any higher than simply being a demonstration of capabilities and an exercise in style.
However, let`s look on the bright side.
Zeppelin are rock and roll`s greatest ground-to-ground tactical nuclear missile, so let`s not listen to any more cry-baby whining about Britain being a second-class military power.
After all, if the Russkies start any hoohah, we`ll just beam this mutha at Moscow and we`ll have `em begging for mercy before the end of the first side.
A double-page spread for the ad of the album severly shot down by Mr. Murray
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Woody Herman, Howard Schuman and Andy Mackay, Man, Roy Wood, 50`s Rock and Roll, Boxer, Al Jarreau, Bill Wyman, The Bothy Band, Mike Dorane, Billy Connolly, Fats Domino.
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