Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Top 100 Albums of the 1970s - #95 - Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti (1975)

The first of several double albums on this list, which is nice because it gives me an opportunity to talk about double albums. There's something about double albums that I absolutely love. They are very rarely perfect records, but they are always overflowing with creativity, passion, and enthusiasm. Double albums are what result when a band is cooking so hot that it simply can't contain all its ideas in a single disc, and whether or not the final product is tight, or even advisable, that's exciting.

Physical Graffiti is no exception. I admit that I have been a reluctant convert to Led Zeppelin. Perhaps a victim of their own over the top hype, I spent years struggling to understand why this band is spoken of in such exalted tones, Physical Graffiti may finally be the record that's converted me to their cause.

On Disc One, things just click. From the blistering country-blues of Custard Pie to the Faulknerian southern Gothic of In My Time of Dying, a sinister 11 minutes workout for slide guitar, this is Led Zeppelin at its most epic and most adventurous. The riffs are untouchable, as in the monumental Kashmir, and the melodies are generally stronger than in the past. The Rover might be the best actual song the band ever wrote, and Houses of the Holy, taken its title from the previous album, is downright singable.

If Zeppelin had stopped at the end of Disc One, they would have produced the best album of their career, and one of the best albums of any decade. But they didn't, a fact which is simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating.

Disc Two of Physical Graffiti is something altogether different and unexpected. Rather than continue the epic rocking, Middle Eastern -tinged riffage, and the Celtic mysticism that has always been part of the band's style, Page, Plant and Co. take advantage of the extra space to stretch out, arguably beyond their comfort zone.

The tracks on the second half of Physical Graffiti are mainly genre experiments. There is a short, bucolic instrumental, a boogie-woogie breakdown, a lilting Neil Young-esque ballad, and a healthy helping of the country stylings with which Page was so enamored. It's comparatively lightweight stuff that, although often fun and enjoyable, seems a little redundant in the wake of what precedes it.

All four band members are in exquisite form throughout, though, and it's a treat to hear so much energy, bolstered by a clear love for the material, coming through the speakers.  Physical Graffiti is the lowest ranking of four Led Zeppelin albums on this list, but I think it might be my favorite.

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