Release Date: Feb 24, 2015
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Hard Rock
In retrospect, that Physical Graffiti emerged at all – let alone that it now merits an all-bells-and-whistles 40th anniversary repackaging – is something of a miracle. The recording sessions began with bassist John Paul Jones wanting to quit. He told Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, that he’d had enough of touring and intended to retire from rock’n’roll to work with the choir at Winchester Cathedral, before being persuaded back.
With Led Zeppelin, there was no break-in period, no "early phase" where they figured out what kind of band they wanted to be. They were fully formed from the first repetition of the "Good Times Bad Times" riff, and they powered along through their first half-dozen albums crushing everything in their path. Zep never had their Sgt. Pepper's, their Exile, their Who's Next, because every album was more or less that good—for a while, anyway.
"Changes fill my time," Robert Plant sings on the extended country-soul drama "Ten Years Gone." It was a fitting sentiment. Led Zeppelin's relentless, searching bravado across their first five albums — out of Delta and Memphis fundamentals through psychedelia, Welsh-country romanticism and North African fantasia — climaxed at the twin peaks of this 1975 double-LP set. Physical Graffiti was a deluxe edition in itself: eight epic-length tracks from sessions in the winter of 1974, fortified with outtakes going back to 1970.
Led Zeppelin couldn’t be contained by the standard audio formats of the early ’70s. They had too many ideas, too many good songs, and no interest in leaving any of them behind. They ran the Swan Song label imprint; the standard 40-minute LP duration was of no consequence. Just make a double album.
You know the drill by now. The 1975 double album, Physical Graffiti, is the latest recipient of the Led Zep back catalogue executive treatment, remastered anew and available in myriad formats, from utilitarian to fittingly wanton. The album proper finds an omnipotent Led Zep still within hailing distance of the top of their game (assuming Zep IV to be the quintessence).
In retrospect, Physical Graffiti stands as Peak Zeppelin. Its sheer size and scope, and the epoch-spanning, piecemeal nature of its assembly, give it the feeling of an accidental best-of. And while Zeppelin’s two subsequent proper studio albums, Presence and In Through The Out Door, had their moments, they also – substantially as a function of having to follow Physical Graffiti – felt somewhat like exercises in decline management.
Remastered Album Score: 9.5Deluxe Material Score: 4.5 Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, 1975’s Physical Graffiti, is the greatest double-LP in rock history—a sprawling, ambitious masterwork that showcases all of the band’s obvious (and not so obvious) strengths. But it could have easily been a trainwreck. Exhausted from their expansive Houses of the Holy tour, the hard rock legends nearly imploded during the album’s initial November 1973 sessions, with bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones on the verge of quitting.
The 1975 double album Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin’s first last album. Coda, the 1982 studio leftover smorgasbord, marks the band’s second, proper final album, one that has widely been regarded as one of, if not the weakest of their studio output. In between those two LPs are Presence (1976) and In Through the Out Door (1979), both of which similarly pale in comparison to the releases that span the group’s 1969 self-titled and Physical Graffiti.
[Led Zeppelin launched a massive, Jimmy Page-supervised reissue campaign in 2014, where each of their studio albums was remastered and then expanded with a bonus disc of alternate versions (in the case of the super deluxe editions, they were also supplemented by vinyl pressings, download codes for high-resolution digital audio files, and massive hardcover books). All previous expansions featured alternate versions of nearly every song that showed up on the finished album but Physical Graffiti, the first in the series to appear on its lonesome (and the first to show up in 2015), has a mere seven songs on its bonus disc -- less than half of the sprawling double album. Fortunately, most of these seven songs offer something different from the released versions.