Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (Deluxe Edition) (review)

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (Deluxe Edition) (Swan Song / Atlantic) review

Epic double album gets remastered and includes disc of rare versions

Physical Graffiti, the latest in the Led Zeppelin remasters series, arrives exactly 40 years from the album’s original release, back in 1975.  Originally a double album, it finds the band at its absolute zenith.  The inclusion of a third disc of bonus material makes this a must-have for Zeppelin fans.

The most familiar material is front-loaded on disc one – “Custard Pie,” “Houses of the Holy,” and “Trampled Under Foot” still get plenty of play on Classic Rock radio.  And, it’s easy to take “Kashmir” for granted – it’s certainly one of the most-overplayed songs of the genre.  Yet, it is still a remarkable blend of Middle Eastern and Western styles – and the way it builds – few epic-length songs command this much attention.  “In My Time of Dying” showcases some fantastic slide work from guitarist Jimmy Page.

Very little on disc two gets much airplay.  As a result, it still sounds remarkably fresh.  While much of the first disc featured blistering hard rock, the songs on this disc are more stylistically diverse.  The trippy “In the Light” sounds fantastic in headphones, while “Down By the Seaside” has a laid-back, Nashville feel.  “Boogie With Stu” is Zep doing bar room honky tonk, “Black Country Woman,” which features mandolin, sounds like it was started on the back porch, then John Bonham’s drums come in and turn it into a rocker.  “The Wanton Song” is fueled by a typical Page guitar riff, but the chorus has a surprisingly melodic quality.

Of the bonus material, the real treat is a stripped-down, early version of “In the Light” called “Everybody Makes it Through” which contains a very dry, up front vocal from Robert Plant.  “Houses of the Holy” features added percussion and overdubs, which suggest that they may have tried to craft it into a hit single (good thing they didn’t). The other tracks are less revelatory – “Going to Kashmir” has a little louder orchestration, while “Brandy & Coke” (an early version of “Trampled Under Foot”) contains a slightly altered Plant vocal track.  But, as in many of these alternate versions from the other remasters – you really have to listen to hear the differences.

The remastering is brighter and seems to contain less tape hiss than previous reissues.  Another selling point is that this is the first-ever CD release that faithfully reproduces the die-cut windows on the cover art – a nice touch.

The band would follow up this album with the weaker Presence and the synth-heavy In Through the Out Door, before calling it quits amid drummer Bonham’s passing in 1980.  Physical Graffiti spotlights Led Zeppelin’s ability both to rock hard and stretch out stylistically, making it essential for both the casual, and die-hard fan.   It is their last great album.  —Tony Peters.