Friday, July 20, 2007

No. 70: Physical Graffiti

Band: Led Zeppelin
Album: Physical Graffiti
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Spanning musical genres, lyrical themes (OK, not really, it's still mostly Hobbit and Plant penis songs) and instrumentation, "Physical Graffiti" was the first album to go gold on pre-orders alone. Many consider this to be the record that cemented Zeppelin as the greatest rock and roll band around.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There are a lot of mediocre songs, as "Physical Graffiti" is a double album. You can skip about half of it.
Best song: "Trampled Under Foot" is among my favorite Zep tracks.
Worst song: "Night Flight" stinks.
Is it awesome?: There are awesome parts and there are terrible parts. It's uneven.

While Zep was hitting it out of the park on their fourth record, "Physical Graffiti" is the band devolving into "let's throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" mode. After "Houses of the Holy" had some cool experiments ("Dy'er Maker" being the operative one), "Physical Graffiti" meanders, hitting on some and missing others. "Kashmir" is a wonderfully repetitive song, while "Bron-Yr-Aur" is a pretty little instrumental. On the other hand, "In the Light" sucks. "Down by the Seaside" tinkers with Page's guitar sound and it's also terrible. "Trampled Under Foot" takes "Misty Mountain Hop and expands on it, to great results. "In My Time Of Dying" goes on too long.

The classic Zep formula is hit and miss on this record, as well. "Night Flight" is boring, while "The Wanton Song," "Custard Pie" and "Houses of the Holy" are fantastic. "Sick Again" is OK, while the Delta blues of "Black Country Woman" doesn't fit Plant's shrieking vocal style.

One of the things I'm learning from this project is that double albums are rarely great. They always have tons of filler that belongs on a b-side or rarities compilation after the band breaks up. A lot of "Physical Graffiti" would make for fine b-sides. They're not good album filler for a purported great record.

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