Being well acquainted with the original albums that led to these expanded editions, I had this review half-written in my head before the CDs even arrived. “This is the sound of a great band on the wane,” I expected to report. “But even in decline, Led Zeppelin doesn’t sound half bad.”
Well, scratch that, because these final three installments of the group’s reissue series prove worthy of higher praise. Granted, only an occasional track is on a par with the band’s finest work. But the original albums sound considerably better than what I remembered. (The remastering by guitarist Jimmy Page doesn’t hurt.) And the bonus discs add a lot, particularly to the Coda collection.
The quickly recorded Presence suffered upon its 1976 release by comparison with Physical Graffiti, its hugely successful and much more diverse predecessor. Still, this guitar-dominated collection incorporates more than a few memorable moments, including the 10-minute “Achilles’ Last Stand” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” both great showcases for Page and drummer John Bonham.
Also frequently impressive is In Through the Out Door, which debuted in 1979 and turned out to be the band’s last studio album. (Bonham died shortly after its release.) True, its synthesizer flourishes and nods to punk—an apparent bid to stay relevant in changing musical times—don’t always work. But much of this keyboard-heavy album still packs a punch, most notably on the blistering lead-off track, “In the Evening.” Also fun are “Hot Dog,” which echoes the Elvis Presley era, and the dreamy, majestic “I’m Gonna Crawl.”
The big surprise here is Coda, which first appeared in 1982. Originally a mere half-hour mish-mash of leftovers issued to fulfill a contractual obligation, it has been dramatically expanded to three CDs that include some of the band’s best previously unavailable work from 1968 to 1974. Among the 15 bonus tracks: the funky “Sugar Mama” and the soulful “Baby Come On Home,” two fully conceived outtakes from the sessions for the group‘s classic debut LP; “If It Keeps On Raining,” a noteworthy early version of the song that became Led Zeppelin IV’s “When the Levee Breaks”; and “Four Hands” and “Friends,” a pair of atypical Eastern outings recorded in India with the Bombay Orchestra by Page and vocalist Robert Plant.
Long before this reissue program began, Led Zeppelin had secured its reputation as one of rock’s most innovative and important bands. But the group looms larger than ever in the wake of its reissue series, which concludes on a high note with these three packages.