Presence: Led Zeppelin’s Underrated Return to Form”

Led Zeppelin is one of those bands that people will go out of their way to say they DON’T like. It’s almost like disliking them entitles you to some special club of superiority. I love Led Zeppelin, but here are two overrated albums: III and Physical Graffiti. Presence comes right after the bloated Physical Graffiti, a double album the quality moments of which could possibly have been condensed down into one single. Robert Plant was in a car accident in 1975 in which he sustained “serious injuries,” which landed him in a Greek hospital, and this caused the band to have to cancel their tour in support of Physical Graffiti. The band then went on to write some songs on the momentum of some undeniably poignant lyrics penned by Plant while he was on the hospital bed, the one on which, apparently, according to wikipedia, he was busy trying to remove some cockroaches when all of a sudden he heard a guy in the next bed over singing “Houses of the Holy” to himself, unaware of the presence, titularly significant or not, of Plant.
There’s no taking anyone to the movies or the show going on within Presence, as you might expect. It’s songs like the 10-minute epic “Achilles Last Stand”: “It was an April morning / when they told us we should go / And as I turned to you you smiled at me / How could we say no?”, it’s the obviously gut-wrenching “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” replete with disciplined stops and riffy starts that hark back to “Black Dog,” delivering though in a more progressive, and possibly even more urgent, sort of way.
I could sit here recounting all of the songs on Presence in their own unique glory, but hopefully I’ve piqued you now enough that you’ll go out and download the album, or better yet buy the CD, complete with its offbeat cover depicting a cookie-cutter family at the dinner table. The cover art embodies one of those images that you just know, by the mid-70’s, in the prime of rock and roll, is satirical, especially given the stakes at hand in the music and the lyrics. It’s all unmitigated eruption on this seventh Zep album, the motifs favoring war and existential matters over played-out flower-in-your-hair hippiedom, the likes of which the band falls into during certain disparate moments on Physical Graffiti, excepting the gripping and successful “Kashmir.” Critics didn’t like Presence. Well, they didn’t like any Led Zeppelin album. Credit the band for never ever giving a rat’s ass about this, least of all on the titanically forceful and edibly listenable Presence, in which, on “Candy Store Rock,” Plant beckons to a girl that she’s “Lookin’ good enough to eat.” Once again, he is truly and exponentially not in any way singing to the critics, but rather he’s singing to those of us whose hearts beat too fast, who often wish we could split into two people the better to explore the world, or live in double time. Of the utmost recommended status is penultimate track “Hots on for Nowhere,” one of John Bonham’s shining moments, and one for all of us, for that matter.

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