critic’s picks 266: led zeppelin, ‘physical graffiti (deluxe edition)’

led-zeppelin-physical-graffitiEver since the re-issue campaign of Led Zeppelin’s studio albums commenced last year, the anticipation of a reconstituted Physical Graffiti began to mount.

That was largely due to the involvement of Zep guitarist Jimmy Page, who doubled as a producer for all the band’s recording sessions. Having the prime architect of Zep’s mammoth sound at the helm of its remastering process – in essence, its restoration – revealed one of rock ‘n’ roll’s more cherished catalogues was in the most learned and sympathetic of hands.

Page didn’t disappoint, either. The newly uncovered clarity he brought to the band’s records (especially, Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin III) thrilled even die-hard fans – not an easy task considering how wildly familiar this music was. Let’s face it, by the time the double album version of Physical Graffiti surfaced in February 1975, Zep ruled FM radio. Fans got to experience the thrust of the band’s songs by the mere run of the radio dial.

In short, what Page accomplished on remastered editions of the band’s first five albums was making some of the most familiar rock music in the world seem new again.

That happens again at the onset Custard Pie, the tune that opens a new triple CD edition of Physical Graffiti. Curiously, it involves not the meat-and-potatoes riff Page cooks up. It’s not even the watch-setting precision and thud of drummer John Bonham or the mile-wide wail of vocalist Robert Plant. Thrilling as all that is, what hits you is a simple but potent clavinet line by bassist John Paul Jones. It’s always been there. But Page’s remastering on this new Graffiti edition makes such a lean little riff feel like someone is tapping on your shoulder.

Of course, the album’s epic accents are similarly enhanced, from the swelling Eastern orchestration of Kashmir to the wacked out Celtic/synth colors of In the Light. But it’s also a riot to rediscover the album’s looser pleasures, like the country-esque sway of Down by the Seaside, the pressure-cooker economy of The Wanton Song and the piano-driven roots rattle of Boogie with Stu..

As with the first five Zep remasters, Page augments the original recording with a full “companion” disc of outtakes and alternate mixes. Here, the excavated treasures include an instrumental blueprint of Graffiti’s finale tune Sick Again, which offers a crash course in Page’s guitar invention and efficiency, and a wholly different reading of In the Light (titled Everybody Makes it Through) that recalls the dark fancy of Zep’s late ‘60s music.

Place all this within packaging that replicates in miniature the artwork of Graffiti’s original LP incarnation and you a have a comprehensive portrait of a rock institution at its most boastful and brilliant.

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