Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti - Review
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critics' view

By 1975 no one was bigger or heavier than Zeppelin. America was punch drunk after the quadruple whammy of their first four albums, each supported by tours that went from scene-stealing support slots to stadium-filling three-hour marathons, almost overnight. Even the slightly below average (ie: one or two sub-par tracks) Houses Of The Holy (1973) hadn’t dented their reputation one jot. The world, and its attendant pleasures, was theirs for the taking. At this point most modern bands would take 5 years off and forget each others' names. What did Robert, Jimmy, John Paul and Bonzo do? Produced a double album that some still hold to be their best of all time.

Admittedly, a fair amount of Physical Graffiti was composed of offcuts and work-in-progress from their previous two albums (cf “Houses Of The Holy”) though these were offcuts startling quality. But what really shines out is the sheer genre-defying eclecticism of it all. Far more than just a crowd-pummelling hard rock act with the world’s beefiest rhythm section, these boys were able to do everything from folk (''Bron Y Aur'') and blues ("In My Time Of Dying") to country rock ("Down By The Seaside") and barrelhouse rock 'n' roll ("Boogie With Stu"). In fact Graffiti serves pretty much as a primer of the band’s entire oeuvre.

And amongst these flights of dexterity we get some of the band’s best-loved numbers of all-time. "Trampled Underfoot", driven by Jones’ stomping Fender Rhodes pulls off the remarkable trick of being both heavy AND funky as hell. "Custard Pie" and "The Rover" are monster axe workouts, and of course "Kashmir" is still a juggernaut of incredible power: a blend of east and west inspired by Page and Plant’s mystical wanderings and underpinned by Bonham’s legendary rumble, famously captured in all its ambient glory in the huge hallway of Headley Grange Manor. And it all came wrapped in one of those fabulously intricate die-cut sleeves that make all people of a certain age long for a return to the glory days of vinyl.

Nick Kent’s review in the NME casually mentioned that by this point Zep could seemingly turn this stuff out in their sleep. He was right. Six years of touring and recording had honed them into an unstoppable force, but tragedy lay in wait around the corner in the form of death, drug abuse and changing tastes. But Physical Graffiti remains a towering monument to the glory of Zeppelin in their high-flying heyday.

Chris Jones
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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