Sunday, July 18, 2010

Led Zeppelin - "Achilles Last Stand" from the album Presence

Much in the same way that the lyrics to The Beatles' "Glass Onion" acknowledged with a nod and a reluctant wink the gnostic cult of Paul-is-Dead, the packaging of Led Zeppelin's Presence acknowledged the I'm sure at-least-somewhat-discomfitting fact that their group had long since become the most humongous rock band in the world.

By the time of The White Album, and by the time of Presence, respectively, things had gotten to the point where expedience was no longer expedient. The Beatles had tried not to feed the conspiracy theorists, and Zeppelin--modest at least in this one regard--had stayed away from licensing lunchboxes and appearances on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. But at a certain point, things get so big, and so plain, that they become the elephant in the room.

Presence seems to be Zep's acceptance of their own status (beyond even their own control) as Big Dumb Object, an enormous artifact of unfathomable consequence.

That's dumb as in "incapable of speech," not as in "stupid," just so we're straight. But since wee're there, let me note that Presence perhaps more than any Zeppelin album save II demonstrates that a certain amount of stoopidity is unavoidable or even desired if you're going to play the cock-rock game.

Plant's lyrics to "Achilles" reference some etching or the other of William Blake's, so my point is not to disparage Zeppelin's obvious operational intelligence. Still, Zeppelin were all about contrast: I dare you to check out the live video from '77, and tell me that Plant's suggestive mannerisms as he sings the band's 11-minute epic aren't a little stoopid . . . .

Ah, but I digress, 'cause the key concept here is not "Dumb" but "Big." Think thunder. Think "Hammer of the Gods," if that helps.

After four albums where at least part of the idea had been to leaven the heaviness with keyboards or acoustic instruments, Presence was a return to the undiluted bombast of the second album. Guitar bass drums voice recorded in a mere 18 days--not necessarily simple, but certainly direct.

The instrumental contrasts that for good or ill had been there on III, IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti were absent on the band's seventh album--and maybe that's why it's long been their least popular. Funny thought, that: maybe Zeppelin were so goddamned popular not because of the parts that rocked, but because of the parts that didn't!

I don't want to go overboard, however. I don't want to make it sound as if Presence were a piece of the nascent pub rock of the time, because the very first track belies that. "Achilles" is the third longest studio track for the band and features perhaps Page's most intricate guitar orchestration, with as many as 12 overdubs. It's routinely described as proggy, or even Yes-like (and if you don't believe that, consider that Dream Theater is one of the many acts who have covered the song). And note that Jonesy is playing an eight-string bass.

Leave it to this band of contrasts to feature a 10-1/2 minute song about a Greek demigod with painstakingly multitracked guitars on their back-to-basics record . . . Presence is perhaps Led Zeppelin's most misunderstood album, but for Page Plant Jones & Bonham, that may have been The Object all along.

Led Zeppelin - Presence - 01 - Achilles Last Stand.mp3

File under: Bands that were, like, really into Bullfinch

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