Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Led Zeppelin - Presence

Led Zeppelin

Released 1976 on Swan Song
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 29/08/2009ce

You know when you've known and liked an album for years and years, then one day you play it and...WOW, it's just hit you just how downright marvelous it really is?

That happened to me, just yesterday, with 'Presence'.

I've owned this record pretty much since the day it came out 33 (jeez!) years ago. And I liked it from the off, especially the epic first track 'Achilles' Last Stand' which, good as the rest of the album was, shone out as the real deal to my 'Kashmir'-loving sensibilities. The rest was good enough - great drumming, natch, but nothing else quite up there with their best. When the Page-remastered CD came out back in the 90's, I bought the album again, alongside the rest of the Zep catalogue, and continued to, er, like it.

In short, a good, not great, record.

How wrong I was.

Yesterday I put this on and had a religious experience: hallelujah - this is a truly awesome record. Why? Well first off, there's the RIFFS. Okay, I know - the essence of Zeppelin has always been their riffs. Page had crafted the most perfect and inspiring riff of all time in 'Whole Lotta Love' seven years previously, and the likes of 'Immigrant Song', 'Black Dog', and 'Trampled Underfoot', among many others, kept that brightest of all Zep traits a-glowing thereafter. But the riffs on 'Presence' now render my chin-barracaded, middle-aged jaws to the floor.

The sledgehammer riffs that constitute the aforementioned 'Achilles' speak for themselves. And the Thor of drums that is John Bonham provides the sledgehammer. The way he moves from punctuating the main riff to battering it into submission is a wonder to behold. In fact, it's Bonzo, ahead of Page, who dominates this song - and, damn it, the whole album. There's no pastoral acoustic moments on 'Presence' - and not a Bron-y-Auresque stomp in sight: it's all bad-assed, prime fatback hammer-blows from the moment 'Achilles's fade in explodes into percussive perfection. And, before we leave this first song behind, I can't ignore Robert Plant, whose repeated 'aah-uh-AH, aah-uh-AH' mantra near the end crowns ten staggering minutes that've already blasted through the Checkpoint Charlie border of perfection.

The annals of mega-riffdom are further swelled by the hip-breaking power of 'For Your Life', wherein Page's whammy bar gets some serious abuse and Bonham's drum skins must be made from industrial-grade leather to withstand the impact. Then the stop-start wonder that is 'Royal Orleans', extending the James Brown homage of 'The Crunge' into arguably the hardest, ass-kicking slice of hyper-funk Zeppelin had yet achieved - and yes, I'm including 'Trampled Underfoot' in the reckoning. JPJ out-basses Bootsy in the process. Phwoor!

Of course, no Zeppelin album can ever stray too far from the blues and, sho'nuff, side two of 'Presence' opens and closes with two of Page's finest forays into the genre. But this is Bonzo's album, remember - and he confronts and conquers 'Nobody's Fault Like Mine' and 'Tea For One' leaving no room for prisoners. Hats off too to Planty, for his harp solo on the former which sounds like it came straight out of Canvey Island in those heady, mid 70's days. Lee Brilleaux and Lew Lewis sound like toddlers next to this.

Percy then goes on to outdo the boy from Tupelo himself on 'Candy Store Rock', where we get as near an idea as we can of what Sam Phillips could've made of Zeppelin had he still been interested. This time it's rockabilly in our heroes' minds as, with consummate ease, they dispatch and destroy the genre in four corrosive minutes. Then, it's syncopation a go-go in 'Hots On For Nowhere', where the big gaps in the rhythm do as much to induce St Vitus into your backbone as do the ever-nuclear drum-driven riffs. I used to think this was Zeppelin at their most throwaway, but no: even on auto-pilot they fire the competition into obsolescence. This ROCKS.

The pace slows way, way down for the closing 'Tea For One', a long and complex blues-burner in the manner of 'III's 'Since I've Been Loving You' - but the power is still very, very much there: in fact, the drums sound even harder in the relative calm of the song. And Page delivers one of his finest solos to boot, not to mention piercingly-fast, dynamic chord work in the brief loud passages. A-1 gear, I promise you.

Since Michael Jackson's "death" (inverted commas intended) a couple of months ago, I've read a lot of revisionist nonsense about him being the first to successfully fuse funk and rock on 'Beat It' (which, let's face it, is just a typical Jacko foot-tapper with an ostentatious Van Halen solo lobbed in the middle of it - hardly a revelatory move in the artistic development of modern music, methinks). That's utter bollocks. Sitting proudly alongside the REAL rock-funk achievements of Hendrix, the Isleys, the electric-era Miles and Mark III/IV Purple (to name but four that readily come to mind) is the Led Zeppelin that created 'Presence' - to my ears the perfect marriage of hard rock and even harder funk, with an essential dose of blues thrown in. Three and a half decades on it's finally hit me just how great an album it really is. And hey - no acoustic guitars!

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