Cynical re-packaging, maybe...but oh, what a back catalogue!
Chris Jones 2007-11-12
Where's the sense of reviewing an album filled with material that every right-thinking human being must already own? Well, let's not forget those over 80s and under 20s out there who may have yet to experience the full majesty of the band who set the benchmark for stadium-packing epic blues/folk rock. And, on the eve of the most hyped reunion gig of all time, Mothership lays it all out in chronological form.
Born from the ashes of the Yardbirds in 1968, Jimmy Page joined with fellow session monkey, John Paul Jones, and hotly-tipped West Midland youngsters Robert Plant and John Bonham This was alchemy of the highest order. Plant and Page's love of West Coast psychedelia, folk and primal blues was bolstered by Jones' arranging acumen and Bonham's powerhouse skinsmanship. Within weeks the first album was spawned. Already it contained the seeds of their greatest moments: The stinging bite of "Communication Breakdown", the doomy blues of ''Dazed And Confused'' and the widescreen pastorality of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You".
An ability to turn every live event into an extemporised trip through rock's back catalogue meant that the USA fell within months of hard touring. Missive number two contained more pilfered blues, but combined it with Page's now fully-matured Les Paul attack. Plant's wailing on "Whole Lotta Love" highlights the sexual nature of their cross gender appeal while "Ramble On" ushered in their ability to wrap nuance around sword and sorcery nonsense.
Now asssured of their place as rock gods, the band used the freedom to explore their gentler side on III. They drew on their love of SF tricksters like Kaleidoscope as well as English pioneers, Fairport Convention. Unfortunately this is where Mothership falls way short; opting to include the harder numbers rather than gems like ''Gallows Pole'' or ''That's The Way''. Shame...
By Four the band were unstoppable. "Black Dog" (tricky time signature yet hypnotic as hell), or the multi-part epic of "Stairway To Heaven": It all seemed so easy. To cap it all, "When The Levee Breaks" showed that their mastery of the blues was now a genre in itself. A juggernaut of ambient darkness, it's no wonder that people began to mutter about pacts with the devil.
On Houses Of The Holy the experimentation went a little awry. "No Quarter" is another dark classic but it's a mystery as to why compilers still include the dreadful cod-reggae of "D'yer Maker" (though Bonham's drums are jaw-droppingly amazing).
No matter, Physical Graffiti showed the band still had it in spades. "Kashmir" is eastern mysticism for the masses while "Trampled Underfoot" now added funk to their arsenal, and it worked.
Well-documented tragedy followed, yet Presence was still awesome. A true fan's favourite, the multi-tracked epic, "Achilles Last Stand" is a one-stop primer as to why Page is rightly regarded as a guitar master.
Last album, In Through The Out Door, saw the godlike status falter. Time was catching up. Truth be told, we were probably lucky not to experience Zeppelin through the 80s; a decade when nearly every contemporary went off the rails in search of new directions. This is why their legacy still stands proud. Of course to get the true picture you shouldn't bother with this album, just get the LOT. But Mothership still shows why the three-remaining English legends are just that. Peerless, in every sense of the word.