Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: 'Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs'

As Martin Popoff admits in his introduction to Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs, he is not the first writer to examine every song in the band’s catalogue. The first time I read such a thing was a fairly cursory but appetite-whetting chapter in Charles Cross’s 1991 illustrated history Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell. Dave Lewis did a more thorough job in 2012’s Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream, but his book lacked critical distance, a personal touch, and any kind of design aesthetic (there’s also Chris Welch’s Led Zeppelin: The Ultimate Collection from 2016, but I haven’t read that one).

So Popoff rightly recognized that there was room for the more attentive track-by-track study he gives Zep in his recent book. Popoff loves Led Zeppelin, but he also recognizes that their output isn’t flawless. He rightfully acknowledges that “You Shook Me” is boring and that Coda could have been improved without that retread of I Cant Quit You Baby, and though “Achilles Last Stand” is one of my very favorite Zeppelin songs, his criticisms of that beloved track are pretty reasonable. Even with such mildly iconoclastic strokes, Popoff finds something positive to say about almost all of their songs, so the punters won’t get too pissed off. I was kind of hoping he’d sink the knife in a bit deeper when discussing the band’s more overrated recordings (much of Led Zeppelin II, for example), but as a fan, I was pretty satisfied, and I’m always happy when a writer is on the pro side of the highly divisive “Carouselambra” debate.

Beyond its critical angle, All the Albums, All the Songs delivers in terms of history and trivia. Popoff covers the instruments the guys used at particular sessions, right down to Jimmy Page’s guitar-bow specifications (“more tension and more rosin”). I hadn’t known that Johnny Ramone obsessively drilled “Communication Breakdown”, which may largely account for his tireless down stroke technique, and I had no idea what the “merle” mentioned in “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is until now.

As a publication by the coffee table-centric Voyageur Press, All the Albums, All the Songs is also an eye-grabbing assemblage of color and B&W photos. It also betrays that publisher’s tendency to not cross every T during the editing process, which leaves some sentences hard to decipher (for example: “It’s a strange reference that Plant so fleeting it seems a metaphor” in the write-up on “Ramble On”). Furthermore, the fact that Popoff glosses over anything not on an album released between 1968 and 1982 (barely a mention of “Hey, Hey What Can I Do”, “Travelling Riverside Blues”, “Baby Please Come Home”, etc.) undermines his title. Still, his engaging and attractive book essentially satisfied that appetite for a hearty discussion of Led Zeppelin’s output that Cross stoked nearly thirty years ago.
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