Life at 33 1/3: The last gasp of the titans

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Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door (Swan Song)

With “In Through The Out Door” Led Zeppelin say bye bye.  Of course they didn’t know it at the time.  How could they?  The group had just made its triumphant live comeback in England after four years of absence, two concerts at Knebworth festival (August 4 and 11, 1979) – each evening facing a crowd of 200 000.  I was there on the 11th and can confirm, it was Woodstock without the mud and the rain, it was hot, the mosquitos had a field evening – the toilets overflowed.  And John Bonham still had about a year left to live.

Both the album and the concerts received a mixed reception.  It only goes to show that first impressions aren’t necessarily leading to the right conclusions.  The album’s status has grown over time, and the excerpts from Knebworth (August 4th) that is included on the DVD collection “Led Zeppelin DVD” (released in 2003) proves that the group wasn’t as rusty as the critics would have it – the version of “Kashmir “is simply overwhelming.

In my original review written at the time of the album’s release I appear to be pretty excited with “In Through the Out Door”.  I emphasize in particular on “Bonham’s brutal, muscular garage drums”.  That huge drum sound, and Bonham’s punch, combined with his extremely precise timing is still awesome.  Bonham’s fingerprints (or rather fist-prints) are all over the album, and over the 36 years that have passed no drummer has ever been even close.

Page’s guitar fireworks still sound stunning, and so does what I then called “the gentle silk veil” of synth and piano.  The album is considerably more varied and sympathetic than “Presence”.  Or to quote my younger self: “The surprises are numerous.  The variety great.  The band touches every base, be it heavy metal rockabilly (!), Latin American rhythms or slow blues”.  And then some!

As a much older man I have to confess that I am particularly fond of the album’s conclusion, the gorgeously beautiful “All My Love” followed by the slow and mighty, self humiliating blues “I’m Gonna Crawl” where Plant pours obsessed and tormented life into every syllable of the lyric – every little bit!

In retrospect, the surviving Zeppelin-members might find parts of the album too soft.  If so, I beg to differ.  I love these vulnerable cracks in their armour.  Then again, I think “Tangerine” (from “Led Zeppelin III”) is one of the most wonderful pieces of music ever made, so who am I to tell.

Released: August 20, 1979

Produced by: Jimmy Page

Contents: In the Evening/South Bound Saurez/Fool in the Rain/Hot Dog/Carouselambra/All My Love/I’m Gonna Crawl

Personnel:

John Bonham – drums

John Paul Jones – bass guitar, mandolin, keyboards, synthesizer, piano

Jimmy Page – electric & acoustic guitars, Gizmotron, production

Robert Plant – lead vocals