21 April 2014

Led Zeppelin - Coda

We're nearing the completion of Led Zeppelin's review discography and as well may be expected, Coda was the act's final studio recorded album released two years after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. To Robert Plant, Bonham is simply irreplaceable and his friend's passing left an enormous void. Two months later, and I suspect the final decision was ultimately left in the hands of Plant, the band decided that it was simply not possible to continue. Sure, they did reunite several times over the years, but the Live Aid performance with Phil Collins was by their admission substandard and likewise at Atlantic Records' 40th Anniversary celebrations a couple of years later. It was only at the O2 Arena in 2007 for the record boss's tribute show when The 'Zep rediscovered their funk that it captured the hearts of minds of the millions they had brought their music to.

LZ did record plenty of tracks that never made it to their previous albums, and despite the apparent public pressure to have their final tracks heard notwithstanding the bootleg discs on hand, the impression Jimmy Page seemed to give is that there was never any urgency to get this on the shelves. Basically, all the tracks have emerged from their album recordings as outtakes in their whole discography and several Page has re-recorded himself. A half empty barrel full of broken biscuits? On a couple of listens, I'm confident in reporting no. First track is one of their early recordings, the Ben E King cover We're Gonna Groove which I have watched on the DVD live performance at the Albert Hall in 1970 and one I thoroughly enjoyed. However, on this version, I do have a bit of beef about. There's a smidgen too much multi-layering retrospectively and the two guitar takes are competing against each other on some mistiming. This track was often twinned up with I Can't Quit You Baby, another Blues number which also makes an appearance on Coda. This take, like the previous track, is from the aforementioned concert but with the audience acoustics omitted from the final product, while staying true to their early Blues influences.

Bonzo's Montreux was originally a Bonham piece where his stickwork appears to be the only intended instrumentation on the track, until some Page electronic backdrop wizardry does enough to keep this from being a filler threatening to lose your attention. Three tracks from this were recorded during the In Through The Out Door sessions, Ozone Baby, Darlene, and Wearing And Tearing. First one is a basic Page/Plant composition, and as are most of the tracks on the final album itself, it's a simple rock jam, perhaps a complete departure from their original roots. Darlene sees John Paul Jones working the ivories on a Honky Tonk piano and Mr Plant is sounding ever increasingly rustic and coarse (on purpose is my impression), and I also suspect paying his own tribute to Fats Domino. It's then back to a brisk beat rock n' roller with Wearing and Tearing with echos of Black Dog with its vocalist-leads-instrumentation and rhythm that smacks of The Boomtown Rats.

Some tracks included retrospectively on the 1993 CD release that aren't on Spotify are the excellent Hey Hey What Can I Do, a pleasing acoustic based B-side to Immigrant Song which leaves me staggered as to why it wasn't on a previous album. It's one of my recent favourite tracks and makes me feel like an eighteen year old again. There's also Travelling Riverside Blues, (already featured on the BBC Sessions, click on this link to read the blog) and Baby Come On Home. It's one of their very first recorded tracks, slow Love Letters-esque beat and melodies that I'm assuming they didn't include as it didn't keep in with the newly discovered metal theme that several acts were trying to carve at the end of the 1960s.

With just about most of their material exhausted, Coda, as I said earlier, could've been nothing more than a barrel full of broken biscuits. However, it's thanks in no small part to Jimmy Page's technical wizardry that this is a fine piece as an end result. In many ways I actually prefer this to their previous two albums, Presence and In Through The Out Door, probably as this essentially is a retrospective offering spanning right through Led Zeppelin's career. Coda has certainly bursed a couple of pleasant of surprises along the way in the three times I've listened to it.

7 out of ten. This is good and well worth a check.
Best track : I Can't Quit You Baby

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