Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Physical Graffiti

By the time of 1975's Physical Graffiti (AM8), Led Zeppelin had stored up more spare rock n' roll cred than most bands ever come within triple platinum of, and used it to record a masterpiece that went beyond any expected norm (and yes, you can end a thought with a preposition). While the back to back "Trampled Under Foot" and "Kashmir" are the only widely known tracks, this album shows both the scope of Zep's musical vision and talent better than any other album and, of course, that's because it’s 30 minutes longer than any of their first five LPs, time that gives the band the freedom to explore a variety of approaches to bluesy rock, with tips of the cap to classical, bluegrass, and world music.  In addition to new material, the band dug into their stock of leftovers to fill out the album, going as far back as Led Zeppelin III. As a result, Physical Graffiti feels like a scrapbook of various musical styles and sounds, greater as a whole than a sum of its parts. 

The album features some of Zep's most ambitious recordings to date, most famous of which is the dense and hypnotic "Kashmir," with a pounding polyrhythmic groove, rich brass and string sounds, and evocative lyrics all lending to the track's epic feel, and yet, despite its immense popularity and radio play, following the majestic build up through 4:20, "Kashmir" deteriorates quickly into tedium unless it's 3am and you're high. (Remember that time on acid when you listened to the inner groove of Sgt. Pepper for nearly an hour? Same idea.) As an interesting comparison, the second disc's "In the Light" (longer than everything but "In My Time of Dying") is a masterful tune that more than justifies its length, with its shifting moods signaling the onset of the album's more varied (and ultimately more rewarding) second half.


The layered guitars of "Ten Years Gone" create a massive wall-of-sound effect; elsewhere, the band kicks out some of the grittiest horn-dog hard rock of their career with tracks like the underage groupie tribute "Sick Again" (but check out the codicil of an adult below), the hammering "The Wanton Song," and a blistering funk duo in the muff-diving "Custard Pie" and motor-working metaphors of "Trampled Underfoot." The band's mastery of light and shade is evidenced on tracks like the mystical "The Rover," hooky "Houses of the Holy," and the mellow "Down by the Seaside," while their bluesy side is explored via the laid back acoustic jam "Black Country Woman," and the extended slide-guitar driven "In My Time of Dying." Whether laying down massive, imposing sagas or laid-back, loose rockers, Physical Graffiti has the ability to draw you in so that even after years of listens, you're still interested in what's around the corner. As such, it most fully realizes Zeppelin's inherent desire and ability to take the listener on a journey.

The length of certain tracks and "Sick Again" are really my only complaints. A single LP would have made for a better album, but then we'd be robbed of also-rans superior to the best of other bands.  And "Sick Again" is just Houses of the Holy rehash. I'm sure I was in teenage bliss chanting "fucking sick again" like a teen-aged rapper, but "Sick Again" was a poor production choice for the LP's finale, even if that's nitpicky.