Wednesday, June 25, 2014
The Zep Remasters: Parts 1-3
The recent campaign to upgrade the Led Zeppelin catalogue to boast improved sound and bonus material began on June 3rd, with deluxe editions of "I," "II," and "III." This is a report on those editions. You are welcome to discuss all things LZ, including the usual topics such as Jimmy Page's penchant for stealing music, how you stopped listening after 1970, Robert Plant's lyrics and ill-fitting jeans, etc.. I am here to talk about the three vinyl editions that I have listened to repeatedly over the last week. As a fan, here's what I found.
OVERALL SOUND QUALITY:
I have owned the original LPs, the first batch of CDs, U.S. CD remasters and Japanese CD remasters. Of those, the Japanese remasters from 2006, which Jimmy Page says weren't really remastered at all, sounded best. Crisp, with terrific bottom. I did not get to listen to the newly released CDs. As I said, I've been listening to the new vinyl editions, and these LPs are superb. Hands down, the best of all. So good, they knock the Japanese CDs out of the park.
When you take into account that these records are over 45 years old, the intial needle-drop will impress you even more. Big and spacious, with guitar and bass flourishes jumping out at you, while Bonham's one of a kind drumming keeps your chesting pumping, LZ's first three records have never sounded so good. To borrow a hackneyed phrase, it's like listening to this music for the very first time.
If you know this music inside and out as I do, the thrill of hearing new things--a Plant vamp, an acoustic guitar that had originally been buried in the mix, etc.--make these tried and true records all the more essential.
"I" features an oft-booted concert from the Paris Olympia in 1969. Whatever bootleg version of this legendary show you own will no longer suffice. Again, sound quality is monstrous. This is LZ, raw and alive, covering most of the first album, as well as "Heartbreaker" and "Moby Dick" from "II." This is a snapshot of a band, too big for the theatre and just 2 years away from the arena and history. Undoctored, you get a performance, warts and all, with an attack that is just as much punk rock as it is blues heavy.
"II" features rough mixes and backing tracks of all but two songs from the record. But let me be clear, unlike the usual collection of "bonus tracks" tacked on to the countless re-re-re-released versions of our favorite records, the music here is not some lo-fi sketch of what you love. In some instances, the alternate versions are better. Jimmy Page liked to overdub three, four and sometimes five different guitar parts and what makes these roughs stand out is the purity. Less is more? Well, not always. Sometimes less is less, like on the track "La La," which is nothing more than a basic instrumental rock groove that could just as well be any band from 1969. No less thrilling for fans looking for something they had never heard before, but not necessarily something you'll play a second time. Whereas, the early sketches of "Heartbreaker," with a slightly different, funkier feel and alternate solo and "Ramble On," with a little more room to discover each musician's contribution are revelations.
"III," my favorite of the three and my second favorite LZ record, is the best of the lot. Worth the price of admission alone is "Jennings Farm Blues," an electric, swaggering showcase for the band, on a song that eventually became LZ "III's" acoustic "Bron-yr-Aur Stomp." The playing is relentless. Not far behind in the running is the alternate "Since I've Been Loving You," dirtier and sexier, and like all things Zeppelin, big!
The bonus material is intelligent. Page might have opted for a few more rarities, like "Sugar Mama," a studio outtake from 1969, or even the b-side "Hey Hey! What Can I Do." But instead, created a listening experience that you can go back to. The new material is not throwaway. If you like these records at all, you will get lost in the sound, the sequencing and the nuances of the new campaign.
4-stars across the board!