As record reviews go, this isn’t going to walk the normal path. Let’s face it, you don’t want another edition of Zeppelin’s last studio album. Jimmy Page had remastered that a while back and done a fantastic job. What you really need to hear are the companion discs. In essence, listening to those has caused me to re-evaluate how I view that entire record.
In 1982 when Coda was first released, I wasn’t interested. John Bonham had died and it seemed to me that Coda was a record put together without a focal point. Led Zeppelin had always been about releasing a full and cohesive album with every song being a part of a larger picture, and songs taken from past sessions throughout their career didn’t fit the bill. In fact, I didn’t own a copy of Coda until I bought the Complete Studio Recordings (1993). The 93’ version of Coda was expanded to include “Baby Come On Home”, “Travelling Riverside Blues”, “White Summer/Black Mountain Side” and “Hey, Het What Can I Do” from the 1990 Box Set, but hadn’t included anything to make me reconsider my previous position. That was a long time ago, and it took the Jimmy Page Listening Event on July 21st to totally reconsider my point of view.
Perspective is a strange thing. My original analysis of Coda still holds up if you place it up against Zeppelin’s previous work. However, if you tweak your thinking a little and look at Coda as an original soundtrack to a comprehensive biography – boom – it becomes mind blowing. The companion discs shine such a light.
Side one alone is stunning, containing alternate takes on some familiar songs. “If It Keeps On Raining (When The Levee Breaks)” has Robert Plant’s vocals take on a lower more ominous tone full of echo resulting in a more haunting impression. “Bonzo’s Montreux” is slightly deconstructed with a more earthy touch that allows for John Bonham’s power house drums to flow and show genius. “Baby Please Come Home” sees the whole band in fine form with John Paul Jones giving extensive Hammond flourishes while Plant exercises his inner Otis Redding.
As the album continues, it’s this perspective that allows for the full comprehension of what Led Zeppelin accomplished in only ten short years. The band has been history for 35 years now but this version of Coda, as its name suggests, is the best final statement Jimmy Page can give. It balances a line between showing a legendary musical legacy and just being one hell of an entertaining ride.
On July 21st, while at the Masonic Temple in Toronto, Jimmy Page suggested we would be taken on a “musical journey.” Coda and its companion discs definitely deliver on that promise.
You can hear Jeff Woods entire Jimmy Page interview on Q107 tonight between 9 & 10 pm.