Pitchfork is all about reviewing reissues, placing on tenuous ground of course the idea of good “new” music still ever coming out, so anyway I thought I’d try my hand at it. This is, after all, not just ANY album. There’s no pu**y-footing track one opener about it, it’s not a beast that in any way mocks itself, and as some of you may know it’s the one Zeppelin album to rank in this site’s all-time top 100 (a couple others of the band rank more modestly on said list).
You don’t get to that ranking, obviously, without being “super deluxe” in your own way, originally. And true, it didn’t really need a remastering. Get this… what was the CD I took out of my CD player so as to put disc two of this reissue in? Why, none other than my original seven-song, 40 minute Presence CD I bought at Tracks in Bloomington, Indiana in college, of course, sometimes in the mid ’00’s. I can still remember the worker’s little inflection at the store as he beheld my selection, a soft muttering of “Presence!”, sort of like a teacher taking note of his favorite student being attendant for class that day, similar to one I once got for a Thermals – The Body, The Blood the Machine purchase, just a little “Thermals!” This is a cerebral Zeppelin album, a reader’s Zeppelin album, one requiring an attention span and a love for the album as a cultural enterprise — for the whole structure, the arc, the climax and in this case the journey into a never-ending bluesy ennui at the end.
So the initial impression, upon the seemingly pointless activity of listening to these same songs just on a different disc, is that there’s a satisfying gaudiness about this project even happening, sort of like a pitcher striking out the same three batters in the fourth inning as he did in the first. It plays as an anthem of victory for the original project. Granted, those opulent muthas at Atlantic also hit us with reissues of In Through the Out Door and Coda,  the two lone Zeppelin albums that would follow Presence chronologically, and neither of which I’d probably listen to even if you paid me. But life is all about selective cognition sometimes, I guess.
As we all know, opener “Achilles Last Stand” is a meal in and of itself, so I saw fit to pause after its conclusion and reflect a little bit. The first thing that hit me about the remastering is that the lead guitar flares are accentuated, and the rhythm part is turned down. I personally don’t like this, it takes away from the song’s visceral quality. The song is about going to war, obviously, and that galloping rhythm guitar part, similar to Joey Santiago’s in the Pixies song “Cecilia Ann,” gave the song its warlike quality. Also, I’m not positive, but I think they actually monkeyed with the drum part about seven minutes in or so, and gave it the post-punk, Franz Ferdinand beat. Thanks Atlantic, did you buy Bonham some skinny jeans to wear, too? Eh, I guess the end result is ok. You gotta fiddle with it a little bit. But overall, the master hardly adds to the song’s intimidation appeal.
The “For Your Life” master won’t make much impression, another song that needed very little modification if any.
Though no precursor to “10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod)” exists, it nevertheless succeeds in imbuing a certain skill in mastering, flourishing from a pedestrian Jimmy Page piano solo into a deliberate full-band plod in the vein of “Tangerine” (and sounding pretty contemporary thereto, in the act). Not even the almighty wikipedia, to which I regularly donate $3 at a time, seemed to know who worked on this album, but whoever did it seems to have a penchant for psychedelic attempts at trippiness, jolting the guitar sounds into warbliness at copious leisure, though to their credit, not really excessively. This is undoubtedly a stoner’s reissue, mellow and approachable, though “10 Ribs & All”’s appearance as it stands certainly seems obvious to the seasoned listener of the raucous album track “Royal Orleans,” track three on the original. Another black eye for “10 Ribs” is that being an instrumental, it’s basically the work of solely Jimmy Page, whereas it’s Robert Plant who upon the recording of Presence had just survived a near-fatal car accident, and so was surged with the most muse vitality, as I think you’ll find on listens to the larger piece. Still, a relinquishing of lore and a loosening of the mood will find “10 Ribs” an idyllic listen, progressing gradually and gracefully from piano stateliness to legitimate Zeppelin band interplay.
Is that John Bonham on the vocal in disc two’s “Royal Orleans”? Hell, it could be Keith Moon, for all we know. Or maybe Don Van Vliet? Anatomically, this track is distinguished by an introductory “…three, four,” followed by a measured exclamatory squall, right before Plant’s vocals would appear. They don’t seemed to have touched the control knobs for this one too much, maybe turned the drums up just a tad if anything.
It’s John Paul Jones’ bass that’s definitely been bolstered for second disc closeur “Hots on for Nowhere.” Being the best song on the album, I think, it’s therefore most disappointing to hear in verbatim reissue form, and when Plant gets to the “I don’t moan at opportunity’s door” line, the seasoned listener can’t help but wonder what opportunity is presented by this commercial unveiling other than one for Atlantic’s preying.
Concluding impressions of the second disc, and really, impressions all along, yield that “10 Ribs” should have appeared first, so as not to disrupt the flow of the original album sequence within the appearance here. I guess they were afraid of positioning “Achilles Last Stand” anything but initially, but I’m kind of a fan of the whole flipflopping thing, like Phish did on A Live One with “Bouncing around the Room” and “The Squirming Coil,” relative to those songs’ appearances on their studio album Lawn Boy.
So artistically, I don’t think the Presence reissue excels; we can only hope some project commendability may stem from the album’s increased pervasion for simply being on the “New Releases” shelves. And “10 Ribs”’ failure to sound contemporary with Zeppelin’s latter days does nothing to help the situation. Surely, I don’t think Zeppelin wrote a single standard rock song between “Rock and Roll” and “All My Love,” with probably the exception of the Physical Graffiti throwaway “Boogie with Stu,” but that’s what “10 Ribs” plays as, a resting on larger, outside cultural laurels which makes it clear why it was a b side in the first place.
 They’re also world famous for the recent Velvet Underground – Loaded reissue, one of the pointless releases of all time, not least for the fact that its veritable pile of discs contains the already canonized Live at Max’s Kansas City.