1994 seemingly was the year of the 70s rock reunion. The Rolling Stones put out their successful album Voodoo Lounge; Pink Floyd had a mega-tour on the heels of their album The Division Bell; and The Eagles toured after a 13-year absence with their Hell Freezes Over tour. It seemed only fitting that the two driving forces of Led Zeppelin, guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant, would reunite. But No Quarter was not just a rehash of Zep classics to milk the longtime fans. Page and Plant gave some rather striking eastern-flavored rearrangements of classic songs like "Nobody's Fault but Mine", "The Battle of Evermore", and the crown jewel of the entire album, “Kashmir”.
Both Page and Plant were coming off some of the best recorded music of their carrer (Page's collaboration Coverdale/Page and Plant's Fate of Nations, respectively), and their musical energy is evident here. They are joined here by longtime Plant solo-band bassist Charlie Jones, drummer Michael Lee, Porl Thompson of The Cure on second guitar and banjo, and a host of musicians playing all sorts of middle-eastern insturments.The music here doesn't quite have the fire and swagger of classic Zeppelin, but it still has a few tasty licks, and a very unusual take on some classics.
The album starts out with a droning Hurdy Gurdy, as Page plays plays an acoustic intro to "Nobody's Fault...", taking an amped up rock song and returning it to its blusey, folksy roots. After that is a fairly faithful rendition of "Thank You", followed by the heavily distorted and much shortened "No Quarter". A "symphonic" indian intro brings us into the acoustic classic "Friends".
After that we get a duo of new songs written by Page and Plant, the electric riff based beat-driven "Yallah", which was performed in a town square in Marrakech, and the more folksy "City Don't Cry". "Since I've Been Loving You", Zep's blues anthem comes next, with less power, but with the added textures of the indian orchestra. "Battle of Evermore" comes next, with Najma Aktra taking the place of Sandy Denny, swapping vocal lines with Robert Plant. Another new song, the acoustically based riff driven song, "Wonderful One" comes next, and this song is sheer beauty.
Next up is a trio of acoustic classics. "That's the Way" showcases Porl Thompson on banjo (instead of the mandolin), followed by the "single" from this album, an amped-up acoustic version of "Gallow's Pole". After that is a toned-down, but certainly not slowed down "Four Sticks".
Lastly comes arguably the best song presented here, "Kashmir". This version takes it's indian/eastern influences to their most logical extreme, with a slow, droning intro over the first verse, finally launching full bore into the song. The song is accented throughout with a symphony, and ends with a great indian "rave up", mixing the power of the rock band with the unusual sounds and rhythms of the east.
Perhaps more noteworthy are the songs that were left off this album--another new song entitled "Wah Wah", which is much in the same vein as "City Don't Cry"; a version of "When the Levee Breaks", with a similar arrangement to "Nobody's Fault..."; a faithful rendition of "What is and What Should Never Be"; and perhaps the best song from these sessions, an absolutely stunning version of "The Rain Song", with Page playing it acoustically, accented by a symphony orchestra. The accompanying video, first shown on MTV, then put out on VHS, is also worth checking out (plus it includes every song done).
So what really to think of this project? Well, it might not be for the average Led Zeppelin "rock" fan. This album never really rocks in the classic Zep fashion. What it does do is take some well known songs and place them in unusual and facinating surroundings. It certainly is for the Zeppelin fan who always had a craving the more unusual side of this band.
I was only 14 years old when it came out, and with me being a completely obsessed teenage Zep fan at the time, this reunion seemed like a gift from heaven. And dare I say, it was a major factor in shaping my tastes; I was given something I was familiar with, but done completely differently, and I loved it! Maybe it hasn't held up so well over time, and no, Page's guitar isnt as smooth, nor Plant's voice as sweet, but if you want a change of pace, check it out.