Presence by Led Zeppelin Review
Despite being unpopular amongst the music press, Led Zeppelin enjoyed huge success prior to the recording of their seventh album, Presence. Six albums in six years between 1969 and 1975 and a heavy touring schedule had left the band tired. The parties, drugs and alcohol had started to catch up with the band and their upwards trajectory had started to plateau. As if all that wasn’t enough, Robert Plant had been involved in a car accident resulting in the cancellation of a tour. Rather than sit about, kicking their heels, Jimmy Page rounded the band up to record an album. Against this rather negative backdrop, it’s little wonder that Presence sounded unlike anything Led Zeppelin had produced before.
There can be little doubt that Jimmy Page is in the driving seat here. He was always the leader of the band but the seven lengthy, rock hard numbers presented here bear all of his hallmarks. All of the tracks bar one are credited to Page and Plant. Royal Orleans is credited t the entire band. Led Zeppelin were famous for not producing singles but this is their coldest, least commercial album. Achilles Last Stand, a ten minute epic, kicks presence off. It’s eerie, chiming introduction sparking a hurtling tour de force from the band. The rhythm section are excellent and this track is widely regarded as John Bonham’s finest hour, although I prefer In My Time of Dying from Physical Graffiti. The galloping rhythm surely had an effect on the young Iron Maiden as the same approach can be heard in many of their songs.
For Your Life, at a mere six minutes, is one of the darkest and most underrated songs in Led Zeppelin’s body of work. The song alludes to cocaine addiction and is one of Plant’s best set of lyrics – a long way from his mystic Lord of the Rings work. The riff allows Page, Jones and Bonham to mash and it’s stop-start playing allows plenty of space to increase the tension.
Nobody’s Fault But Mine is another album highlight. The song could’ve been even better if it wasn’t for an over-long introduction that also crops up a couple of times during the song to interrupt the flow. It’s still a great track however, and proves what a great pairing Bonham and Jones were and they lock together on a powerful yet intricate rhythm track. This is demonstrated on a mighty instrumental break with Robert Plant taking the lead on harmonica. It’s interesting to contrast how Page and Plant treated this song years later on their No Quarter collaboration.
Candy Store Rock, Royal Orleans and Hots on For Nowhere shed little light on the dark place that Led Zeppelin found themselves in on Presence. The band largely shunning hooks for powerful riffs with cryptic lyrics from Plant rising to the top occasionally.
Presence ends with the depressively brilliant Tea For One. Along with For Your Life, this song is an overlooked classic. Bluesy guitar over nine minutes with a lyric sheet that hints at isolation from Plant. The song is punctuated by a couple of frenetic bursts of guitar and is another fascinating departure from the band on this album.
Often dismissed as a lesser album in the Led Zeppelin canon, it’s clear that the ideas weren’t flowing as freely as earlier in their career. However, a younger Led Zeppelin couldn’t have produced the troubled classics For Your Life or Tea For One. Only an older, wiser band who had seen life from both ends of the barrel could have written these. Presence may not have the “hits” of other Zeppelin albums but it’s a fascinating document of the band at this time and proof that even when they weren’t on top form, Led Zeppelin could still dig deep to produce a minor classic.
Rated Sound gives Presence by Led Zeppelin 8/10.
Presence (1976) by Led Zeppelin Track Listing
1. Achilles Last Stand
2. For Your Life
3. Royal Orleans
4. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
5. Candy Store Rock
6. Hots On For Nowhere
7. Tea For One