For all that they were the Ultimate Behemoth of ’70s Rock, I always think that if you don’t get Led Zeppelin it’s because you ain’t got no soul.
The thing that separated these Men from all the cock-rockin’ Boys was that they played with feel, with funk. They were The Greatest Hard Rock Band Ever not because they were telly-trashing, snapper-inserting Crowley fiends but because, dammit, they could play.
Over the lean, sinewy bass lines of JP Jones and the always deceptively straight stomping of John Bonham?a sociopathic Keith Moon, anyone??you had the full-throttle-but-weirdly-girly yelp of Robert Plant and crunching, multi-textured guitarshapes of Jimmy Page. Arguably the most successful chemistry experiment rock’s ever conducted.
Highlights on this newly conjoined Early Days And Latter Days set? What isn’t a highlight? From the word go?the double stab of the opening “Good Times, Bad Times”, as on the band’s debut?every note and beat just careers out of the speakers. Of all the limp nu metalheadz in today’s biz, only those Stone Age Queen fellas come remotely close to the loose/tight visceral grooves patented by Page/Plant/Jones/Bonham. I even love all the cod-folk acoustica?the Love-ish opening of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, the Sandy Denny-graced “Battle Of Evermore”?but they’re filigree next to the primordial blues-funk bonequake of “Whole Lotta Love” and “When The Levee Breaks”.
And what of the Latter Days? Well, no one could pretend Houses Of The Holy or Presence are patches on albums one through four, but from Physical Graffiti comes the quite mind-blowing “Kashmir”, which repurposed the giant Bonzo thwack of “Levee” and brilliantly layered weird phased guitars and Asiatic strings over them.
“No Quarter” from Houses Of The Holy sounds pretty hot after 30 years, but Presence’s “Achilles’ Last Stand” is too fussily proggy by half. And what’s that wimped-out synth doing on “All My Love”, f’chrissakes? Ah well, back to Vol One…
The song remains the same. The power remains undiminished. Let it trample you underfoot.