In 1979, the year when this album was released, popular music bore little resemble to what it was only a decade before. For many of those musical pioneers who had come of age in the ‘60’s, and who had helped define that period, by the late ‘70’s, it was almost as if the whole world had been turned upside down and inside out. The majority of ‘oldies’ still had their following, no matter what style of music or genre, yet it was now a younger generation who were making their mark on an industry that was ever in a state of constant flux. How on earth such a grotty and snotty act such as The Sex Pistols, with their somewhat amateur histrionics, and primordial playing could attract the attention of Led Zeppelin is beyond all understanding (or at least mine). No offence to John Lydon and his other fellow punks, who seemed to love doing nothing more than blow oysters out of their noses at the audience, but it’s a bit like Elvis Presley admitting to feeling a little insecure about The Beatles (although the Beatles were far more talented than The Sex Pistols. How do I know that? The former managed to release more than one LP and sell millions of albums).
As much as In Through the Out Door sent most critics into a tailspin of derision, the record itself is not as terrible as they originally made out. Sure, some of the songs are a bit on the dicky side, and give new meaning to the word filler. But on the whole, and on closer inspection (i.e. while listening through headphones), I have to say that my biggest complaint is not so much the song writing, but the sound, which is dreadful. Jimmy Page mixed the entire thing at his own home studio in Plumpton. Without a doubt this is the worst sounding Led Zeppelin long player the listener is ever likely to hear.
The album begins with some mysterious and ominous Middle Eastern atmospherics, a few distant drum rolls, before Robert Plant announces “In the Eeeeeving”, and then we’re off, to a very promising start indeed. Everyone is in fine form, as one would expect from a band of mortals who were capable of giving even Odin a run for his money on occasion. Not so the next track, “South Bound Saurez”, a funky, piano driven number, with a driving beat, and a half-fiery guitar solo by Jimmy Page, although not that you would notice, due to all the instruments being so buried in the mix. “Fool in the Rain” is pleasant but in a pedestrian sort of way. Back in the old days this is the sort of song that might have turned up as a b-side, and by the 2:30 mark they even sound like the hired band of the Love Boat, what with all the whistles and Calypso/Caribbean rhythms, just to prove my point. But believe me there’s worse to come in the form of “Hot Dog”, a musical atrocity if there was ever one, at least by Led Zeppelin’s standards. It reminds me of that scene when the Blues Brothers had to perform in front of an audience of Country loving hicks, while all the while pretending to be the Good Ol’ Boys.
Side two blasts off with the epic “Carouselambra”, a composition which is once again diminished by the awful mix, a bit like listening to “Kashmir” sinking in the sand. I can’t understand a single word Plant is singing, so as a result I have no idea as to what the song is actually about. Everyone talks about John Paul Jones as being the dominating musical force on this record, and rightfully so, but I can still hear plenty of Page, somewhere in there anyway. The problem is that you just can’t hear him properly enough to distinguish him from the other instruments.
“All of my Love” is about as close as the band got as far as writing a pop song, although the subject matter is hardly cheerful. Plant wrote it about the loss of his son, Karac, who had died some two years earlier, and on here Robert sings it with a certain pathos and emotion worthy of its subject. The LP concludes with the bluesy “I’m Gonna Crawl”, albeit with cheesy synthesizer arrangements, which manage to take away from the gravity of what the band is attempting to express. But all that aside, Plant’s vocals are excellent throughout, as is Page’s disciplined outbursts, along with John Bonham’s planet smashing drums. A solemn way to end what would turn out to be their final LP.
“In Through the Out Door” may not be Zep’s greatest 42 minutes, but it does reveal a band willing to take chances and explore new musical possibilities. Yes, the mix is terrible, yet the playing is still commanding. And if one considers the actual times in which they were living, a lot had changed since 1969. Hippies were out, and punks were in, the latest vanguard of youth expression, not to mention disco, along with a plethora of other acts also desperate to vent their angst and sexual frustration. Yet no matter how much they may have tried, Led Zeppelin proved that they still had the biggest testicles in town.