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In Through The Out Door—8

 

Released: 1979

1) In The Evening  2) South Bound Saurez  3) Fool In The Rain  4) Hot Dog  5) Carouselambra  6) All Of My Love  7) I'm Gonna Crawl

 

By the time 1976 came around, the music scene had been turned on its head.  Along side the singer-songwriter craze, bands like Aerosmith, Boston, Bad Company, and Heart each rode Led Zeppelin’s hard rock sound to multi-million dollar success, and with Robert Plant still recovering from his injuries, Zeppelin were unable to reclaim their thrown on tour.  They did try to combat the onslaught by releasing “Presence,” but that album simply was not good enough on its own to be successful without a tour to support it.  At least with the rock bands, Zeppelin could relish in the fact that their sound was still commercial, but the underground Punk and New Wave scenes were just beginning to blossom, where Led Zeppelin were considered boring old farts.  Paul Simonon, bassist for The Clash, famously stated, “Led Zeppelin? I don’t need to hear their music. All I have to do is look at one of their album covers and I feel like throwing up.” 

 

When Plant was sufficiently healed to go back on the road in April of 1977, the band planned their eleventh American tour to right their reputation and remind the public of just who was the biggest selling band of the decade.  This tour wasn’t the success it needed to be… Besides being extremely rusty, Jimmy Page was heavily addicted to heroine and Plant was not his old brazen self, having to prop his foot on a stool during some of the numbers.  If that weren’t bad enough, John Bonham was struggling terribly with alcoholism, which came to a head at a show in Oakland.  Peter Grant’s teenaged son, in trying to take a plaque that had the band’s name on it as a souvenir, was handled roughly by an employee of the concert hall not realizing who the kid was.  Bonham jumped to the teenager’s aid and soon Peter Grant, and other Zeppelin goons beat the concert employee to a bloody pulp.  Bonham, Grant, and two others of Zeppelin’s staff were arrested and charged with assault.       

 

But all of that paled in comparison to the most devastating blow the band had yet endured… Shortly after the Oakland debacle, a mysterious stomach virus tragically killed Robert Plant’s five-year old son Karac.  The attack was sudden and obviously shook Robert to his very core.  The rest of the tour was canceled and it seemed as if the band would break up.  Over the course of the next year and a half, as Robert and his family slowly came to terms with their loss, ridiculous stories ran wild discussing how Plant blamed Jimmy Page’s Satanism for the death of his child, only furthering the insatiable Zeppelin rumors.

 

Eventually though, in November of 1978, Led Zeppelin began to talk about getting back together, and in December they traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to record an album using Abba’s state of the art Polar Studios (amazingly the two bands were good friends).  But the album they produced sounded nothing like Led Zeppelin.  It seems that with Punk and New Wave now exploding, Page encouraged the band not to rely on past accomplishments…he wanted them to experiment with new sounds to keep their music and image fresh.  Unfortunately, Jimmy was so smacked out on heroine that this challenge to his band mates was probably just a cover up for why he didn’t have any ideas of his own (a trend that would continue, with only minor glitches, all the way to the present).  John Paul Jones was happy to abide… his ideas, songs, and keyboards, in direct opposition to “Presence,” dominate the record that was eventually entitled “In Through The Out Door.”

 

Like “Presence” the recording only took three weeks, but unlike their previous effort, the atmosphere was relaxed and highly professional.  The opening, “In The Evening” begins with strange, Eastern drones that sound like creepy whale calls, before Plant pours on his strutting.  With its synthesizer backdrop, the tune doesn’t really have that Zeppelin hard rock feel, but in terms of pure atmosphere, this is a pretty entertaining piece.  Plant’s voice is devastatingly powerful, but the middle, softer section following Page’s solo is completely out of place.  Still, the mood pushes through, and old fans of the band would not think this was that much different from previous efforts… But when the shimmering piano intro to “South Bound Saurez” begins, those same fans were probably making sure they had the right album on the turnstile.  This Jones/Plant composition is a lightweight hop…bouncy, good time happy fun.  Led Zeppelin? No, not even close, but still a pretty grooving tune.  Page’s solo is muddy and forced, but the track is sloppy great.  Again, Plant’s voice is strong, enhanced by cheesy background vocals for the first time since the band’s early days, but these vocals are just so much “Shla, la, la, la” fun.  Cock-rock this ain’t.

 

Fool In The Rain” was even further from their roots.  This Top Twenty hit is pure pop, featuring a middle Brazilian Samba section that is cued by a whistle…yes, a whistle.  The swaying disposition is relaxing in a “Down By The Seaside” way, but this is even more resort-bandish.  While this is the fruitiest they ever got (perhaps in reference to the album title), you cannot deny that this is a GREAT song…as catchy as they ever released.  The lone Page/Plant song on the album, “Hot Dog” follows.  Huh…I’m speechless.  It is a sleep with your cousin, eat some possum, backwoods Texas hoedown.  Again, it is bouncy and fun, but their old fans would have been downright embarrassed to play this for their friends.  Page’s solo is sophomoric, but it fits.  No one could ever call this amazing, but you can’t deny it is catchy and anything but boring.

 

No, leave the boring for the ten and a half minutes of the synthesized extravaganza, “Carouselambra.”  If the goal of the album was to prove the band weren’t old farts, then this surely does that, but when listening to this, I feel like Axel Foley riding into Beverly Hills to teach them white cops how you kick it Detroit style.  What the hell is this?  Towards the middle (if you have made it that far), there is a great, slow section that seems as if the band will salvage the tune, but too soon the cheese returns and you’re back to hanging with Bronson Pinchot again.  It really does sound like the theme to Miami Vice, which I guess could be seen as Zeppelin being ahead of their time.  But if this is the direction the band would have ventured if they continued, I’m almost glad this was their last album (although it probably cost the makers of Grand Theft Auto a sweet soundtrack for their game).

 

Things hardly return to normal with the second Jones/Plant piece, “All Of My Love.”  As happy and playful pop as “Fool In The Rain” was, this love song is that dark and foreboding.  But, it might be even catchier.  Jones synthesizers are beautiful, and Plant’s vocals are overflowing with emotion (many have suggested that this was his lament for his son).  Continuing the trend, Page is fairly silent on this track and has even stated that he hated it, but it is an excellent, poignant song.  And just when you are ready for anything…ready for Zeppelin to start rapping or pull out the kazoos, everything falls back into place on the closing “I’m Gonna Crawl.”  Following a gorgeous, almost Disney-like synthesizer buildup, Jones leads the band into pure hit bottomness.  Everyone sounds drained and just about finished, but in the best way possible.  These are Plant’s best vocals of his career.  He is mesmerizing…dripping with raw emotion.  And Jimmy’s solo might even better Robert’s performance.  On the album where he disappeared, where he shrank into an almost drug causality, he emotes the best minutes of his recorded career, helping to make this track a perfect, righteous, and amazing swan song for the band as a whole.            

   

True Zeppelin fans must thread very lightly with “In Through The Out Door,” but anyone with an open mind and equally open ears has to admit that this album has some very interesting songs.  While it can’t rival the band’s best, it surely is a very good record, featuring some of Robert Plant’s best singing, and it succeeds despite the fact that Jimmy Page is almost nowhere to be found.  Of course, even more distant than Page was drummer John Bonham.  Tellingly, “In Through The Out Door” marked the first time he failed to receive a composing credit on an album.  While his playing was fine, it wasn’t startling, and he was obviously sinking into a depression of sorts.  He would be dead before the end of 1980, and the band soon followed.  But don’t overlook this curious career closer…it is underrated and a more than worthy purchase.

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