September 4, 2003

Crypt of Mediocrity

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This column will unearth the most astoundingly awful albums by all the best bands and then quickly entomb them again. In a lot of cases, the worst albums by bands like the Beatles or the Clash are still better than 95 percent of the music out there. In these cases, I plan on lying to make them seem worse. In other variations, the worst albums may very well be the best albums, depending on our complex paradigm shifts that I don’t understand (i.e. Trout Mask Replica). In those cases, I will use a thesaurus and keep invoking Freud. Occasionally, I may take some time out from solely buying terrible CDs by doing the best of the worst or the lightest of the heavy, anything as long as it has a binary opposition in it. I want people to think my sentences are elliptical mobius-strip spirals. Anyway, without further with (see how I did that):

From 1969 to 1975, Led Zeppelin were at the absolute limits of rock stardom, engendering an intensely heavy rock founded on a bed of blues. Culminating in 1975’s double-album, Physical Graffiti, the band, despite teeming with egomaniacal and dangerously inebriated members, still could do very little wrong for the legions of kids who sold their souls for scalped tickets to the Mercury Dome in the summer of ’72. The seemingly inexorable trajectory of Zeppelin fell apart in 1976 with Presence. The fall was immediately noticeable from the cover art. The sleeve displayed a family sitting around an abstract fixture at a dinner table. Excuse me for not getting overly enthusiastic.

Inside, the music is analogous. It’s rock-by-numbers, mechanistic attempts at replicating the sound of Physical Graffiti with fewer riffs and more sludge. The pretension of these Celtic mystics with violin bows has finally eliminated the talent behind it.

The first song is a ten-minute methamphetamine sandstorm in the Delta, but the tragedy of enduring the rest of a tedious album after this initial exuberance is unmatched in rock history. “Royal Orleans” and “Hots on for Nowhere” are probably Zeppelin’s two worst songs. It’s a soundtrack to Gilmore Girls, not spectral debauchery or whatever Zeppelin should be aiming for. The ten-minute “Tea for One” contains the dullest riff Page has ever written and, after the first three minutes, goes into an inept interpretation of Pink Floydian prog, when it should be veering toward blues-folk. Plant sings, “A minute seems like a lifetime.” Not far from the truth. The album feels longer and more pretentious than the same year’s The Song Remains the Same, a movie that basically invented the vernacular employed by Spinal Tap and Tenacious D (bombastic elves with swords fighting leather-clad godhead guitarists). Presence is worse than their next album, 1979’s In Through the Out Door, and that one was recorded at ABBA’s studios.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt