December 20, 2007

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Led Zeppelin, Mothership
Atlantic/WEA Records, Nov. 13
The latest in a long line of remastered Zep classics is all rehash apart from the remaining three band members (Jimmy Page, with Plant and John Paul Jones sipping brandy at separate tables somewhere within driving distance of the studio) having done a little re-engineering of the overall sound. It’s not really clear what the source was for these songs, most likely a copy of the two-track master, which means “quality-wise” it’s bested by one or two previous attempts. And obviously this was intended to capitalize on the one-off reunion show in London, so expediency was probably the game; the professed objective was to get the volume levels evened out in order to fit into the personal mix burns of listeners today, as prior to this there was a need to amp the volume on the tunes when they showed up. Far as that goes, most music nowadays is compressed to unrecognizability and very loud, so every once in a while you’ll notice a radio jock stuck with near dead air when (s)he throws a Zep tune into a block — you can all but hear the DJ’s coffee cup getting tipped over in the mad scramble to peg the volume.

The separation of instruments and vocals and other things didn’t turn out super-great here, but it is more separated. The problem with that is that the organic creatures that are these songs are laid belly-up like frogs in a science class. Frankly, that sucks. On vinyl, “Ramble On” is pretty close to the ultimate booze song, faraway, foggy, more than a little demented. “The Lemon Song” is even more so, but that’s not on this collection and thus can’t be picked at, although with “Ramble On” losing so much of its feel you’re better off anyway. All the bleeding over of the tracks made them great in the first place, and digital devices simply cannot handle some of the nuances.

Mothership is a random Zeppelin generator which, aside from “Immigrant Song,” totally ignores Zep III, the single craziest hard-rock album in history (White Stripes’ “Get Behind Me Satan” is its closest modern ancestor). Newer fans who like the band’s sound are advised to ignore this and just take it album by album. CEric W. Saeger