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Swan Song (1976)
Rating: 7/10

Led Zeppelin resorted back to the 45 minutes or so formula for their seventh album, Presence. It’s probably my least listened to Zeppelin platter, although it boasts a handful of monsters including album opener ‘Achilles Last Stand’, a ten-minute behemoth featuring a driving riff and locomotive drum and bass attack.

‘Achilles Last Stand’ is a straight up rocker and certainly the heaviest cut on the record. Of the six Jimmy Page / Robert Plant compositions the album offers, this is certainly the most direct; a raw, stripped-down mini-masterpiece featuring seemingly ahead of its time dynamics and that killer, never-changing backbone of a chug.

Thankfully, the band keep the pace with the six-and-a-half minute ‘For Your Life’, a technical groover that exists on a familiar structure of Page’s jarring guitar, John Paul Jones’ dominant bass and John Bonham’s jerking drum.

Interestingly, the brief ‘Royal Orleans’ is the only cut on the record attributed to all four members. Compared to the two previous tracks it’s a mere snippet driven by another cool guitar strut that is brisk with funky sprinkles, but it pales in comparison to the epic ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ which enters the airwaves on a cool Page solo and Plant swoon before the majestic drums charge from the speakers. It’s hard to believe that the critics thought that Led Zeppelin was washed up, the band simply opting for a more stripped down assault on the senses.

Admittedly, Presence lacks the monster hit or eye catcher of previous releases. ‘Candy Store Rock’ is a boogie anthem delivered with the usual struttin’ aplomb, but alongside ‘Hots On For Nowhere’ it doesn’t provide the greatest penultimate experience for the album. Neither track is a behemoth; the latter simply funks hard but lacks the mystical majesty of Zeppelin’s classics. If anything it’s merely a bubble-gum rock head-nodder boosted by Plant’s infectious “La la la la”’s.

And then we’re almost done, left to ponder on the ten-minute glam strutter that is ‘Tea For Two’, which sets out its stall as a mid-paced groover before plummeting into the depths of bluesy thought. Page takes over proceedings, his axe merely whimpering over a mournful Bonham plod as Plant wails within the sea of melancholy. Suddenly I’m lost at sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of those familiar hard rock shores, but it never comes. ‘Tea For Two’ could have so easily been a meandering instrumental, a rambling self-indulgent pile of blues-drenched vomit in reality.

So, despite a handful of very good songs, Presence fails to live up to its title, none of the tracks really gripping the listener or staining the ears. Choppy at best, Led Zeppelin’s seventh record was very much a sign of the times, the band lost in a haze of half-hinted tragedy as Robert Plant continued to recover from injuries sustained in a car accident in August 1975.

Neil Arnold

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