Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Zep Remasters: Parts 4-5

The next round of Led Zeppelin deluxe remasters hit this week, with "IV" and "Houses Of The Holy" getting the upgrade in both sound and content. If you want to refresh your memory on what took place with the first round, my review is here.

Round Two:


Like the first round, I listened to the vinyl copies of both 1971's "IV" and 1973's "Houses Of The Holy." Unlike the first round, I wasn't immediately blown away, at least not with Zeppelin IV. The first thing I noticed as "Black Dog" started to shape up was a lack of bottom. I don't recall this record or any record by this band ever sounding so brittle. This is not to say it isn't an improvement over previous releases, but after enjoying the remastering on the first three, I anticipated the same type of excitement. Maybe my ears were expecting something completely different in the upgrade than what Jimmy Page or any of you will.

On the other hand, "HOTH" is the exact opposite, sounding more like a John Paul Jones production, with the bass taking front and center. This remaster is breathtaking. Like the first round, every layer of music is crystal clear, from Bonzo's cymbal work in "The Rain Song" to JPJ's bass work in "The Song Remains The Same," which is a song in itself.  From the intitial needle drop, you will feel LZ in your living room.


The "Companion Audio" to these two releases also pales in comparison to the first three, especially "IV." I've listened to these records thousands of times and can blink every drum lick and guitar flourish and I was hard pressed to notice any major differences with the "alternate mixes." The U.K mix of "When The Levee Breaks," though, is a must hear. Greasier and heavier, with Plant's blues harp leading the way. The "mandolin/guitar mix" of "Going To California" is a beautiful piece of music actually, but again, it doesn't feel like anything more than a karaoke version. There is nothing particularly revelatory here...

...unlike the "guitar overdub reference mix" of "The Song Remains The Same" on HOTH, which blew my wee little mind. This overture which opens the record, has always been in my Top 10 of LZ songs. This new version will show you why. Jimmy Page creates an orchestra of guitars, with each additional track painting a new background, via a riff, rhythm or melody. As each new idea began to unfold, so did I. I thought I knew this tune inside and out. This version proves I did not. The slightly stripped down version of "The Rain Song" is also a stunner. Also in my Top 10, this "mix minus piano" version feels more personal. Softer, maybe as Plant's vocals, seem like the focus. This track is also one more reason there will never be a drummer like John Bonham. If anyone thought Bonzo was only about hammering it home, just give this subtle performance a good listen. I also really enjoyed the "guitar mix backing track" of "Over The Hills & Far Away," simply because I had no idea how grungey the rhythm guitar was. I just never heard it this way before. (You see, when you're a fanboy, these subtleties are game-changing.)

While neither of these new remasters benefits as well as the first three with audio improvements or bonus materials, for a fan...and I am...they are still very exciting, especially HOTH.

Next up, the 40th anniversary remaster of my favorite LZ record, "Physical Graffiti" coming in February, 2015.


A walk in the woods said...

Cool review, Sal - I wish more music reviewers took your approach in terms of the details of the sound and the value of the "deluxe" reissues. Too often, I read reviewers trying to give me a history lesson/synopsis of the band, which I usually know.

I don't think I can resist getting either of these - especially HOTH. I've gotten the first 3 and sure am enjoying them.

OldRockr1 said...

IV seems a bit cleaner on first listen compared to the othe copies I have. Very good but not amazing. I can't complain as this one was free (a defect on side 2 so my local guy gifted it to me). Next up is HOTH and you have definitely peaked my interest.

I agree the first 3 were fantastic.

As I am listening to IV is sounds a little too "bright" and a little clipping on Battle of Evermore. He vinyl is super flat and dead quiet which I can't say about all of my other copies.

Bombshelter Slim said...

Well, Graffiti should be good, but I'm really waiting to hear Presence... this was the album that upon release made me reevaluate LZ and improve my life... and Sal, you're correct about HOTH!