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TBL ARCHIVE SPECIAL: PHYSICAL GRAFFITI 37 YEARS GONE – PART 2

27 February 2012 6,225 views 6 Comments

The  TBL archive celebration of the release of Physical Graffiti continues with two reviews of the album from the time of its original release 37 years ago. Firstly the view from America’s Creem magazine – followed by words of wisdom from the UK’s Zig Zag mag.

Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (Swan Song)

Jaan Uhelszki, Creem, 1975

ROCK’S BIGGEST bruisers, Led Zeppelin, have got another album. In rock chronology this is an Event, since the defending champions of the world’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll draw have released only six albums in the past seven years. In fact, we’ve spent eighteen excruciating months between products, pacifying ourselves with heavy rock’s second prizes – Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, and BTO. And these heavy metal hitmen couldn’t begin to plug up the leaks Led Zep left when they took on an extended, self-imposed exile to some musicians’ netherworld.

Now, just as cold turkey has begun to lose its chill. Zep are back with a package deal: a double album and an American tour. The announcement provoked unchecked carnage in the under-eighteen age group, primarily directed at long black limousines, uniformed adults, and popcorn sellers. Throngs of potential ticket-buyers foamed with anticipation, their palms growing sweaty, their eyes glassy.

Days passed without the appearance of Physical Graffiti. Then the first shipment arrived late one Thursday. The fans descended on Marty’s Records downstairs from CREEM like dragonflies, clustered around the cash register, furtively clutching the album to their heaving bosoms, slobbering and drooling down the shrinkwrap. Worried parents contemplated a vaccine, but once Physical Graffiti touched the turntables the mysterious malady subsided. The stricken nodules were lulled into a state of tympanic euphoria.

Physical Graffiti can stand on its own historically without the support of Zep’s five other million sellers, but inevitably the cuts on this album will be scrutinized with Nancy Drew-like precision in search of a successor to ‘Stairway’ or an equal to ‘Rock and Roll.’ Graffiti is, in fact, a better album than the other five offerings, the band being more confident, more arrogant in fact, and more consistent. The choice of material is varied, giving the audience a chance to see all sides of the band. Equal time is given to the cosmic and the terrestrial, the subtle and the passionate.

The exotic and musky ‘Kashmir’ is intriguing in its otherworldliness. Jimmy Page’s grinding, staccato guitar work sounds like a cosmic travelog to spiritual regeneration, swelling around the lyrics, which are heavily laden with mystical allusions and Hessean imagery. Although ‘Kashmir’ is certainly the best cut on the album, it could be trimmed without losing any of its mesmeric effect, because at some point the incense grows a little murky, and the slow burning guitar degenerates into opulent cliches, causing the instrumental interludes to echo an Exodus soundtrack.

Not all of the cuts are exercises in advanced audial basketweaving, but trace a musical cycle running from Page’s grandiose productions to basic drunken boogie. ‘Trampled Underfoot’ is seemingly effortless funk that is rescued from mediocrity by the elaborate punctuation of Page’s guitar. His fingers traverse the neck of his instrument with a velocity so violent that only a machine could improve upon it. Each batch of notes he pulls from his guitar is uniquely his own, personal as a thumbprint. Just as unique are Plant’s laments and his sexual heaves and sighs that turn the lyrics of a simplistic rocker like ‘Wanton Song’ into an introspective, personal statement. ‘Custard Pie’ and ‘Boogie With Stu’ are macho masterpieces in the tradition of the strutting, swaggering English flash blues formula pioneered on Zeppelin’s early albums. ‘Night Flight’, ‘Sick Again’ and ‘Ten Years Gone’ smack of pop picaresque, much in the manner of Rod Stewart’s ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ – vignettes and transient insights, slices of a popstar’s life.

Led Zeppelin moves in strange ways. Sure they’re gutsy, ballsy, and flamboyantly aggressive, always spiked with a lot of eroticism, but they’re also cerebral…by way of the glands. They have this unique ability to wind you up and prime you for a full-throttled tilt. You rocked, you rolled, and oh mama those juices flowed – but you also listened to the words.

Surprisingly, in an era where disposable bands and itinerant musicians constantly play a game of musical chairs, Led Zeppelin is a unit – the same four members for the past seven years. Their longevity is due to a kind of magnetism, magic if you will. That rare chemistry was evident even at their first rehearsal, where they fit together like jigsaw pieces, transcending their common R&B backgrounds to achieve a gut-wrenching new synthesis. Lisa Robinson describes it as a case in which “the Beatles battled the Stones in a parking lot and Led Zeppelin won.” Zeppelin make more noise, has more guitar gimmickry, more sexuality, more flash, and generates more violence than any of their competitors, so that they are more than mere musicians, simple superstars. They have become the longest-lasting model for those culturally bankrupt ‘trendies’ to follow. Underage masses walk, talk, dress and dope like Zep. They have become a necessary trapping for the terminally hip, as well as providing the audial backdrop for any social gathering.

A Led Zeppelin album is like a select invitation to a key club of rock ‘n’ roll, where the kohl eyed gypsy Jimmy Page is finally accessible through his smoky guitar solos. Robert Plant preens and moans, lusts and longs for lost memories…and takes you along. Like a sonic vortex, Zeppelin draws you into their private caprice, spiraling, coaxing your willing psyche into a suprasensory haven where you can taste and savor this dream stuff that superstars thrive on. This is not pop music, but a harder stuff, more heady and potent, like a round of whiskeys and coke. Zeppelin are avatars in a cultural vacuum.

© Jaan Uhelszki, 1975

Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti

John Tobler, ZigZag, 1975

NOW I SHOULD make clear in this context that I’m not by nature a fan of this band in the same way that I like Van Morrison or Love. My position is one of deep respect, mind you, and while I was heard to say some harsh things about Beck copyists, etc, when the first album came out, such notions no longer seem to apply. I feel that I would have to perform a masterpiece of justification if I wanted to put L.Z. down, and in all honesty, there’s no fuel for that particular fire.

I suspect that someone somewhere will go into that old thing about making one great album out of two flawed same, as used with the Beatles’ White Album and so on, but again, I can’t subscribe, and this is where the review really starts. There are fifteen tracks on display here, and three of them, accounting for about a third of the playing time, appeal to me so much that were they on one side of the record, I would find it difficult to play anything else until I knew them from every direction. Specifically, these are ‘In My Time Of Dying’, ‘Houses Of The Holy’, and best of all, in a class shared with only a dozen or so tracks in my entire musical existence, ‘In The Light’.

That’s not to write the rest off in a terse few words but for my part, the record would be breaking down fresh barriers if it was all as good. It’s a question of stand-outs, and if you can imagine putting ‘She Loves You’ on the first Beatles album, you’ll see what I mean. Without my three choice cuts, the album would be of very good quality. Perhaps a little routine, but certainly to be among the critics’ choices at the end of the year. With the tracks included, it gets a distinct lift off, and while it’s just as certain to figure similarly in critical and public polls, we’re all getting a bonus for which we should be grateful. I would say with certainty that prolonged playing will produce several more tracks which will become highly pleasing, but it all comes down to what makes the biggest initial impact. And that’s not to say that the three I’ve mentioned have a singalong chorus.

Beyond saying “Get it if you’re even vaguely into this type of confection,” there’s not much to add. Jimmy Page as producer has to be one of the most tasteful people there is, and he continually rejects the temptation to fall into Black Sabbath traps, He also plays the guitar with consummate brillance, and perhaps that’s part of the key to Led Zeppelin. They are all musicians of the highest calibre, and the length of time taken to produce this package is a testimony to the fact that second best for them is as bad as nowhere. One for your lists.

© John Tobler, 1975

Reviews by kind permission of  Rocks Backpages -not to be reproduced without prior permission. Visit  http://www.rocksbackpages.com/

TO BE CONTINUED

Here’s a clip of Sick Again….in all its 1975 on stage glory.

Led Zeppelin Sick Again Live 1975

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6 Comments »

  • NYC Album Art: The East Village Buildings On Led Zeppelin's 'Physical Graffiti' | Led Zeppelin Site said:

    […] reviewer, Jim Miller, announced that “‘Kashmir’ succumb[s] to monotony,” Creem‘s Jaan Uhelszki called it “exotic and musky… intriguing in a […]

  • Steve said:

    “Sick Again” , Zeps ode to Glam Rock , perhaps their most underestimated track ever.

  • Jeff S said:

    I have my older brother’s Creem magazine from 1973 w/Jimmy Page on the front cover in his black dragon suite…. lol

  • andrew R said:

    Dave, funk, soul, rock, blues its all there, as you have said so many times!PG was magnificent in 75 is still as magnificent today and is the reason that Arthur shifter and the removal men will leave me cold this summer.

  • Chris Wright said:

    Just a devastating version of Sick Again. Let no-one ever question our devotion after that performance. Eternally magnificent.

  • steve hurd said:

    hi dave its nice to see ticket of the locarno that i gave you years ago in print thanks its HURD.not Heard.as printed in your book sorry been meening to txt you for years.looks like im off to womad this time only live 12 miles away.thanks again steve

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