Led Zeppelin, ‘Presence,’ ‘In Through the Out Door’ and ‘Coda’ Deluxe Editions: Album Review
Led Zeppelin's recent remasters series ends almost as triumphantly as it started.
It began in 2014 with an expanded reissue of the band's self-titled debut -- which included a 1969 concert on a second disc -- as part of the initial batch of the first three releases. Coda, the last LP in a new set of reissues that collects the group's final three albums, adds two more discs of rarities to the 1982 odds-and-ends collection. Unfortunately, almost everything in between those two reissued albums has been such a letdown.
Zeppelin's original nine records (including Coda) deserve their reputations. They remain timeless works that have influenced generations of kids to pick up guitars, get stoned and rock out. The newly remastered original albums, overseen by Jimmy Page, don't sound all that much better than previous reissues or uncover anything, save a few rare instances, that were long buried in the mixes. Which leaves the new, unreleased material that accompanies each of the albums.
Besides a few unheard highlights here and there -- that live show on Led Zeppelin, a select few instrumental and alternate versions sprinkled throughout the other albums -- the bonus discs and bait that were meant to drive fans (many of whom have probably bought these albums more times over the past four decades than they care to admit) to these recent reissues have been huge wet farts.
And that especially goes for the tracks found on the new deluxe editions of 1976's Presence and 1979's In Through the Out Door. The majority of the dozen bonus songs on these two albums are referred to as "rough mixes," which pretty much amount to similar-sounding versions of songs without the echo, reverb or clean fades found on the original LPs. Only the delicate piano-driven instrumental curio "Ribs & AllCarrot Pod Pod (Pod)," from the Presence sessions, reveals something new, and mainly because it sounds so out of place with the rest of the album, the band's overall roughest.
While the expanded version of Coda, with 15 additional songs spread out over two CDs, has its share of repetitive alternate and rough mixes, a few gems are sprinkled throughout, including an early, bluesier version of "When the Levee Breaks" (titled "If It Keeps on Raining") and the slinky boogie "Sugar Mama," leftover from the debut album. ("Travelling Riverside Blues," from a 1969 BBC session, and the popular Led Zeppelin III B-side "Hey Hey What Can I Do," both previously available, are also here, though they should have been included on earlier reissues.)
This new version of Coda pulls songs from all of the band's eras -- from its bluesy early days (a rough mix of "Bring It on Home") and a world-worthy version of III's "Friends" with the Bombay Orchestra to Physical Graffiti heaviness (a different mix of "The Wanton Song" called "Desire") and rarities like the R&B-style ballad "Baby Come On Home," recorded for the first album but not released until 1993's Boxed Set 2. It's not the most cohesive assembly, but Coda never was. It at least offers something most of the other reissues haven't: A vault cleaning that's yielded more than just a few tweaks here and there of songs we've heard thousands of times by now.
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