Album of the Week 37-2016: Led Zeppelin – Presence


Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is generally considered their best work, along their two-disc magnum opus ‘Physical Graffiti’ and possibly the rawness of their debut. Opinions on their seventh studio album ‘Presence’ are a little more divided, but I personally consider it the last of their perfect albums. It’s a relatively heavy affair, which may have been disappointing to those who enjoyed the sprawling nature of ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and ‘Physical Graffiti’, but if you view the album for what it is – an excellent bluesy Hardrock record – it’s thoroughly enjoyable. And a lot more influential than you might think.

‘Presence’ came together in a time of turmoil for Led Zeppelin. The band was more popular than ever – they even outsold the Stones – but the touring machine had stopped because of the injuries Robert Plant sustained from a serious car crash in Greece. He allegedly recorded the entire album from a wheelchair. Maybe the touring hiatus saved the rest of the band some energy, because this is easily their most “live” sounding record. The songs are relatively simple in terms of arrangement, but that’s also where quite a lot of the album’s propulsive spirit stems from; Jimmy Page’s riffs and John Bonhams drums are all over the place.

As a Heavy Metal fan, there’s no way I couldn’t enjoy opener ‘Achilles Last Stand’ (sic). It’s simply impossible. Its galloping rhythm predates Iron Maiden’s debut album by a few years, but it’s consistently strong and works wonders in terms of dynamics. The other book end is another long song and it’s one of Led Zeppelin’s most underrated masterpieces: ‘Tea For One’ starts out with an uptempo Rock feel, but quickly transforms into a slow, brooding, minimalistic blues with excellent riff work and a mindblowing vocal performance even by Plant standards. It’s like a darker, riffier brother to ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ and should have been valued as least as much as that one.

The shorter songs are every bit as impressive. The band’s take on the traditional gospel song ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ is really their own thing and one of the few songs they took to the stage from this record. ‘For Your Life’ has an irresistible start-stop feel, which almost makes it feel heavier than it actually is. ‘Candy Store Rock’ is one of those forgotten classics of which I really like the restrained, yet powerful rhythm and the fifties R&B licks courtesy of Page. ‘Royal Orleans’ is another one of those unconventional, yet recognizable songs. I think they were shooting for something Funky here. They didn’t quite succeed, but the results are great nonetheless.

While it’s hard, if not impossible, to overstate Led Zeppelin’s brilliance and lasting influence, I feel that music fans generally attach themselves to a limited number of their albums, while really, each and every one of their first seven records is just about perfect. ‘Presence’ is definitely the first one I’d suggest someone who leans towards Hardrock. Sure, some of the songs need some time to sink in, but it’s always been that way with Led Zeppelin. In hindsight, maybe the forced touring hiatus was a blessing in disguise. Whatever the reason, ‘Presence’ should be heard by anyone who loves good Rock music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Achilles Last Stand’, ‘Tea For One’, ‘Candy Store Rock’

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