Tuesday, November 13, 2007

All will be revealed: Led Zeppelin releases Mothership

When the four symbols representing Led Zeppelin appeared on the front page of Led Zeppelin's Web site earlier this year accompanied by what appeared to be a date, some folks wondered what Nov. 13 would hold in store.

Well, it did involve stores.

These people were suffering from a temporary case of amnesia. There was speculation that the band was going to announce a reunion concert on that date! The anticipation built throughout August and September. What was going to happen?

All along, Nov. 13 turned out to be the scheduled release date for the two-CD compilation Mothership in the United States. It was also the date eventually picked for the group's first download availability on iTunes.

That date is now here, and The Mothership Has Landed on schedule. Now in the hands of fans is the fulfillment of the first phase of that promise -- with cellophane bearing a sticker that reads, "The Very Best of Led Zeppelin Remastered on 2 CDs."
Phase two, a reissue of The Song Remains the Same on DVD and its soundtrack on CD, is only one week away.

For now, let's enjoy this Mothership release. The compilation provides a few new things to pick at.

One piece of this are liner notes written by David Fricke, an editor at Rolling Stone magazine. Odd choice, you might think, given the history of bad blood between that magazine and Led Zeppelin. Well, Fricke's tenure with the magazine has been mostly during the years that the group was reconsidered to be a major contribution to the group and "The Heaviest Band of All Time" if you believe their 2006 cover, shown at right. Fricke admits briefly in his liner notes, with regard to "the band's harshest critics," "there were armies of them at the time."

Though much of Fricke's commentary focuses only on the songs included in the set, he does some justice in capturing some of the band's earliest days. He also gives attention to the reason Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980. Perhaps it is fitting that his writing ends nearly as abruptly after this revelation as did the existence of Led Zeppelin after John Bonham's unexpected death.

The remastering of the songs was recently performed by John Davis at Alchemy Mastering in London. I'm already detecting a few rare moments I had never heard before.

  • In "Dazed and Confused" between 2:17 and 2:18, Plant is singing in his high vocal range faintly in the background. [Update: Wrong. This is also audible on previous releases.]

  • In "Rock and Roll" between 2:51 and 2:55, there are some previously unheard piano notes from guest Ian "Stu" Stewart. [Also wrong. This, too, is also audible on previous releases.]

  • In "Black Dog" between 3:49 and 4:17, Plant sings throughout Page's guitar solo. [Wrong again! I'd just always missed this.]

These are things that, unless I'm mistaken, must have been muted in previously issued mixes of these songs. [Not muted, but let's agree that they're more easily noticed in the current mix.]

I've also heard some things during the fadeouts of the two opening songs – "Good Times Bad Times" and "Communication Breakdown" – that don't recall ever hearing before. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think we're listening to additional seconds recorded before these recordings end. [I haven't yet checked to see if I was right about these. Feel free to comment!]

There are probably many other subtle differences between the recordinsg on this release and those issued on previous sets. All will be revealed, and I hope some people reading this will be able to comment on anything else they notice.

The art direction and design are new, by Shepard Fairey. Some fans have complained about the simplistic cover art, the prevalent red-on-black color scheme, and the recycling of that blimp motif – which even Shepard himself is employing on another concurrent project, shown on the magazine cover at right.

But it would be hard commenting on the design without mentioning the Super Jewel Box in which the two-CD set is contained. I guess I haven't bought any Robbie Williams or Gwen Stefani CDs lately, but I don't feel very embarrassed admitting that. Had I bought some of their material this year, I might have noticed the packaging, which is supposed to be a lot better than older CD jewel cases.

Mothership's deluxe edition, which contains a single DVD compiling portions of the band's double-disc video release, comes in a cardboard fold-out packaging scheme.

So forget for a moment that this isn't the first time Led Zeppelin has delivered a best-of compilation. Instead, let's revel in the band that brought you to this site in the first place: "The Heaviest Band of All Time," as Rolling Stone suggested in 2006. Or as Q magazine had proclaimed the previous year, "The Most Important Band in the World ... Today!" However you remember these guys, remember them for the recordings they delivered between 1969 and 1979, again celebrated today, on 11.13.07.

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