This sixth Led Zeppelin release, which first came out in 1975, is the group’s equivalent of the Beatles’ White Album, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, the Stones’ Exile on Main Street and Springsteen’s The River—a sprawling, ambitious and eclectic statement. Like many double albums, the 15-track, 83-minute collection contains a bit of filler and arguably would have worked better as a longish single disc. Still, it is undeniably great. In fact, it is the last great studio album that Led Zeppelin produced. (I specify “studio” because the group did ultimately release one more sensational CD — Celebration Day, the record of the 2007 reunion concert that showed up in 2012.)
Now Physical Graffiti is back—40 years to the day after its original appearance—as the latest entry in the band’s reissue series. Like the previous reissues, it features remastered sound (by guitarist/producer Jimmy Page) and a disc of related, previously unreleased tracks. Among them: early versions and alternate and rough mixes of “Trampled Under Foot,” “Sick Again,”` “In My Time of Dying,” “Houses of the Holy,” “In the Light,” “Boogie with Stu” and “Kashmir.”
The original album still sounds terrific. The 11-minute “In My Time of Dying” offers a potent example of Led Zeppelin’s trademark combination of blues and rock while the majestic “Kashmir” finds the group taking a successful side trip into Eastern-influenced music. The folky “Black Country Woman” delivers an irresistible groove as does the hook-laden “Houses of the Holy.” Other highlights include the psychedelic-sounding “In the Light,” the brief acoustic instrumental “Bron-Y-Aur” and the funky “Trampled Under Foot.” Throughout, the album benefits from Robert Plant’s inimitable wailing and Jimmy Page’s concise, elegant guitar work, which ranges only from excellent to astonishing. There’s no big leap forward here from the first five albums; but Physical Graffiti demonstrates the full range of what the group could do and it shows them at their best.
If you like Led Zeppelin but don’t own this music, you should. If you’re a fan and are old enough to have been around during the group’s heyday, on the other hand, you probably already have Physical Graffiti, which has sold upwards of eight million copies. In that case, the question is whether to upgrade and the answer may be a bit difficult to determine. The remastering constitutes a noticeable improvement, at least on a good sound system, but I wouldn’t call it a revelation. As for the 41-minute bonus disc, it should prove consistently interesting to serious fans, but you won’t have trouble figuring out why the band opted to further refine the versions it contains. The tracks labeled “rough” sound, well, rough, at least by comparison with what wound up on the official 1975 album. Given the price of the reissue, though, it seems you’re not really paying anything extra for the bonus disc.