(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Presence is a very unique album in the Led Zeppelin catalog. Probably the one that gets overlooked the most by the general public that just hear Zep on FM radio or casual fans. To diehard Zep fans though Presence is hailed as their heaviest, most guitar driven album ever. One listen and it is easy to hear the reasons for that opinion.
The opening cut alone seals that prediction immediately. "Achilles Last Stand" is IMO the best track Zeppelin ever recorded. The tune gallops along, driven by John Bonham's amazingly propulsive kick drum work. This is the most ambitious cut the band ever recorded. Epic songs from prior albums like "Ten Years Gone", "The Song Remains the Same" and "Kashmir" were all steps leading up to this opus. Robert Plant recently described "Achilles" as "prog rock gone mad". Jimmy Page builds a virtual 'guitar army' via overdubbing on this track much like he had done on prior cuts. Here though he reaches his zenith. Buy this cd for this track alone! It is a juggernaut. The rest is gravy. Very good gravy. Let's have a look at it....
The Fender Stratocaster plays a big role on the next track, "For Your Life". Here Page wangs on the whammy bar to great effect. It gives this tune a fresh character in the Zep catalog becaubse Page never used a Fender "Strat" before with the band. His usual guitar of choice was a Gibson Les Paul, a guitar that does not come with the vibrato bar, a.k.a - whammy bar. "For Your Life" has quite an interesting arrangement and is my pick for the second most ambitious number on Presence.
"Royal Orleans" is a shorter tune that sort of goes along with a couple other shorter cuts here- "Candy Store Rock" and "Hots on for Nowhere". All great guitar driven feasts.
"Nobody's Fault But Mine" is probably the best known cut here besides "Achilles". NFBM was a concert staple up until the band ended. It's simple blues based riff is perfect in it's simplicity and incredibly powerful. This tune has a hell of a great groove to it.
The closing cut is the best slow blues the band ever did. I know many favor the third album's "Since I've Been Loving You", and I love it as well, but "Tea For One" seems more passionate. You can hear the pain that Robert Plant had gone through recently in his performance. At that point in his life his blues were true and you can really feel it.
On another note.... Ever notice the similarity of this album's cover and Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here? It is no coincidence, they were both done my the team at Hipgnosis. These are two of their better covers. Yes' Tormato would not fare as well in their hands..... Poor Yes, lucky Zep.
(All Album Reviews by Hal...)
The strength of Presence is that contains the power displayed on their first two albums but with an added maturity lacking on them, and at the same time, not seeming to take itself too seriously... with a couple of exceptions.
This is some of - or just is - Page's best work, with his overdubbed "Achilles Last Stand" being certainly brilliant and "For Your Life" and "Tea for One" following closely. And while Plant's lyrics are still often lacking, they don't suck nearly as much as they usually do, with "Achilles" qualifying as one of his standouts. Also, his vocals on this album are arguably his best, in spite of his limitations, with most of the album being above par. As for the rhythm section, if you pay attention to that type of thing, Bonzo and Jonesy have never sounded better together since II.
The song-by-song breakdown:
“For Your Life”: While Plant's vocals are strained at times, they still sound excellent and his lyrics are more than passable (an achievement for Plant). Certainly, this album points to his vocal style of his solo albums in the '80s. But what makes this song great is Page. This is Page's third best song of the album.
“Royal Orleans”: Fortunately, this song clocks in at only 2:58. It's not a bad song, per sé, but is the weakest of the lot, primarily due to the riff that opens the song. Page's solo more than saves the song, however.
“Nobody's Fault But Mine”: A standard, once, on FM radio, this song shows the rhythm section at its best with some excellent contrapuntal emphasis. There's more great guitar work from Page, and a very nice harmonica solo from Plant. This song is easily as good as any of their other "hits" from their oeuvre.
“Candy Store Rock”: Plant's vocals on this song harkens back to IV or Houses of the Holy. The verse on this song isn't bad, but doesn't sound particularly inspired to me. However, the bridges are excellent, with Bonzo & Jonesy sounding perfect together.
“Hots On For Nowhere”: Is this the "funnest" song Zep ever recorded? It's another standout for Plant, Page, & Bonham. Indeed, this song wouldn't be half as good without Bonham's touch.
“Tea For One”: The second best song on the album, the intro is totally contrived and needless. My only other complaints with this song are the lyrics, which come off repetitive, and Page's choice of guitar for some of the overdubs, which sounds like a Telecaster (a guitar whose timbre I've never liked). Now, that said, his playing is virtually nonpareil, even for him. The overdubs are perfectly realized, creating, at times, a double lead. The solo is even more emotive and heart-wrenching than Plant's vocals, which are at their bluesy best. Bonham's little, one-handed snare rolls are a pefect touch, too.
I had to save the best for last: “Achilles Last Stand”.
Do I even need to discuss this song? Doesn't every Zep fan agree this song is a masterpiece? It starts off with Page's slow arpeggio dubbed over himself, before the band launches into a much faster tempo that never lets up, creating a level of energy that's almost too much to bear as it increases through the length of the song. And no one lacks on this song. The lyrics are very good, the vocals the best on the album, and Jonesy even sounds crunchy as he keeps the band anchored. But, what makes this song as excellent as it is are Bonham & Page. Bonham has never sounded more nimble yet powerful at the same time and his little speed-demon fills are absolutely superb. Page's lead work and overdubs are so beautifully realized that, in comparison, his solo almost seems lacking, and yet it, too, is a perfect fit, being so emotive for such a powerful song. And while I would have preferred more Gibson and less Fender from Page, that seems such a minor point it's almost not worth mentioning given his high level of playing on this song.
While Presence doesn't seem as important as their triple crown of IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti, there really isn't a bad song on this album, which I can't say about any other Zep album. So, when someone says "Achilles Last Stand" is worth the price of Presence, remember that, while that's true, you also get a boatload of gravy.