The unexpected and untimely death of John Bonham in 1980 put paid to Led Zeppelin’s future as a proper functioning unit. Such was Bonham’s presence and power that the other members just couldn’t continue without him. Sure, they could have chosen a replacement, and followed in The Who’s footsteps, but they knew all too well that nothing would be the same. So why bother? And good on them for doing so I say. Because it isn’t every day that Rock Gods are capable of putting their egos back in the box and make a decision based on humanitarian rather than narcissistic needs. So hats off to Page, Plant and Jones for making the ultimate sacrifice with respect to their careers and income. But there was still some unfinished business to attend to. Whether it was because of record company pressure, or, as Jimmy Page once explained, due to widespread bootlegging that led to the release of this material is a matter of debate and one which many a critic has pondered over these past thirty-five years. Yet Zeppelin fans have an insatiable hunger for product, so who really gives a toss what the real reason was behind this album. All that truly matters is the music itself. At least that’s how I look at it.
Opening with the powerful and energetic “We’re Gonna Groove”, recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall on January 1970, here is a performance with enough thrust to launch a Saturn V rocket. Page has overdubbed additional guitar, something which may piss off the purists, but in reality gives the recording a more complete and polished feel (not that it would have needed it in any case). Listening to this is akin to sitting in the back seat of a Formula One vehicle as it’s racing around the Silverstone Circuit. Things slow down considerably with the folkish “Poor Tom”, an outtake from the Led Zeppelin III days. It’s a fine track, and a testament to the strength of Bonham’s drumming. And speaking of drumming, next is “I Can’t Quite You Baby’, another recording from the same Royal Albert Hall concert as the first track (the original liner notes are misleading), where Bonham’s playing is as thunderous as ever, and Robert Plant wails like some possessed demon hell-bent on stripping the paint off your ceiling with his voice. In other words, commanding stuff.
The last song on side one is “Walter’s Walk”, another outtake, only this recording (apparently) stems from the band’s 1972 album Houses of the Holy. Although there remains a question mark not only with regards to when the track was recorded (some sources suggest 1976), but also the origin of Plant’s vocals, which I must say do have a rather early eighties feel about them. But regardless of how much post-production went into it, the song is really nothing more than a vigorous not to mention curious piece of musical driftwood.
Side two begins with the first of three outtakes from 1978 during sessions that would ultimately form In Through the Out Door. Recorded in Stockholm, Sweden, “Ozone Baby” is an up-beat although somewhat unexceptional rocker, and proof that when Zep strayed too far from their blues/celtic roots, deciding to wander off into more modern pop-rock territory, you wind up with a slice of aural mediocrity, which is what this is, no matter how good the playing.
“Darlene” is the second track from the Stockholm sessions, and is somewhat better, even if it too probably doesn’t really go anywhere, instead surviving on sheer force of Nature alone. “Bonzo’s Montreux” was recorded in Switzerland, in the city of the song’s title, although it isn’t really a song, more an instrumental workout by one of rock’s most talented and distinguished drummers, whose abilities on the skins were nothing short of Herculean in strength and skill. In order to give it a bit more structure, Page posthumously overdubbed electronic effects, and depending on which side of the fence you stand, is either an enhancement or like someone placing a neon-sign on your grandfather’s grave.
The final number, “Wearing and Tearing” is pretty much your basic balls-to-the-wall hard rock, and the last of the In Through the Out Door outtakes. Page once stated that it was written as a response to the Punk movement, as if to say “You think you’re all so good, cop this.” But for a group as Olympian as Led Zeppelin to even attempt to out-shred the likes of the Sex Pistols, is a bit like Zeus admitting to feeling sexually inadequate when compared to the younger Perseus. So sure, while the latter may have seemed fresher and edgier, the former still had the biggest testicles in town not to mention “Biggus Dickus” in my opinion. In other words, I really don’t get what they were trying to prove, because at the end of the day, the band had no reason to prove themselves against anyone.
Coda is at worst an interesting and at best fascinating document of titbits and other tasty morsels the band never got around to either finishing or thought worthy of releasing at the time of their conception. I must admit, on first listen all those many years ago, my sense of disappointment was fairly palpable. But after all, it was the eighties. A time when half the West’s population was either wasted on booze and cocaine, or busy watching John Hughes movies. And with the likes of Def Leppard, Van Halen and Dum Leotard (yes, I made the last name up) riding the charts, I guess no-one should have been surprised much less disappointed with this, what would turn out to be Led Zeppelin’s final word and testament (at least for a while). Yet as far as such things go, the LP itself is hardly what one could call a shoddy tombstone to their talents, and at least they had the courage, not to mention respect to call it a day, unlike so many other groups I can think of (Genesis, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the list goes on). This may not be Zep’s finest (half)hour, but give me “We’re Gonna Groove” to “Girls on Film” any day.