Sound — 10
Though not considered an "album" in the traditional sense, this 1982 collection of previously unreleased outtakes from throughout the band's career has enough solid material to definitely earn the title of "album". In fact, it manages to be better than most other Zep albums, although it has often been cited as one of their worst. There's a lot to love about this album, in fact. It maintains the signature Led Zeppelin level of diversity, though this is also partially due to the fact that the outtakes are taken from many different parts of the band's career. Most specifically, Zep I, Zep III, Houses of the Holy, and In Through the Out Door. The album starts off with the wily "We're Gonna Groove", a radical blues-esque frenzy that, though it's not the best on the album, is probably the most suitable opener. Next comes the interesting "Poor Tom", taken from the Zep III recording sessions. The lyrics tell the tale of a man named Tom who has a sixth sense that allows him to sense that his wife is cheating on him. He then kills his wife, and is forced to die for what he has done. It's certainly an oddball song, but Bonham's entrancing drum beat and Plant's odd harmonized vocals add to the mesmerizing atmosphere of the song. It's actually a shame it didn't make it to Zep III. Then comes the live version of "I Can't Quit You Baby", which is originally on Zep I but this version, taken from Royal Albert Hall in 1970, is actually better than the original. Page's improv solos seem to be more intact, and the sound just seems tighter than on the original studio take. "Walter's Walk" is taken from the Houses of the Holy recording sessions, and is perhaps Zeppelin's rawest song. The guitar is crunchier than ever, and although it doesn't really stand out too much as a phenomenal track, it doesn't really take anything away from the album. Then comes "Ozone Baby", taken from the In Through the Out Door sessions. Its upbeat guitar riffs and fills, along with Plant's delightful vocals, make the song one of the best on the entire album. I would've liked to have seen it on ITTOD. "Darlene" kicks off, and you can instantly tell that this one was also from the ITTOD sessions. The way Plant's vocals back up Page's interesting guitar line make it catchy, although in actual substance it may be lacking a bit. Still, a pretty good song. Then it's "Bonzo's Montreux", the 4 minute drum solo taken from one of Bonham's sound checks at Royal Albert Hall. It could be compared to "Moby Dick" in that they are both drum solos, although aside from that, they are completely different. This one takes a much more reggae feel, with even bongos thrown in amongst the odd but catchy beats and fills. Page added electronic effects over the solo in the studio, almost in the form of a tropical xylophone line, which only adds to the reggae feel of the song. In terms of drum solos, this turns out much better than the studio take of "Moby Dick". Finally is "Wearing and Tearing", which, in an effort to mirror the growing popularity of the punk movement at the time, much imitates its title. The rag-tag chaotic atmosphere provides a very superb background for Plant's stylishly sung vocals. Another one that should've made it on ITTOD.
Lyrics — 9
It's hard to look at the entire album in terms of lyrics, because the songs themselves are taken from such different eras of Zep's career, thus reflecting lyrical maturity at many different levels. The earlier ones, "We're Gonna Groove" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" take on the typical older Zeppelin-style blues atmosphere. "Poor Tom" much reflects the rest of Zep III, and, as I said before, deserves to have been originally included on it. "Walter's Walk" is less than satisfactory, and I don't think should've been put on Houses of the Holy, an album where most of the lyrics are much above Zeppelin average. The next 3 that were from ITTOD sessions (save "Bonzo's Montreux", since it doesn't have lyrics to critique in the first place) are all shining examples of JPJ's contribution to the band at that time period. The most notable being "Ozone Baby", whose lyrics perfectly reflect that of ITTOD, and the only reason it may not have been included would be because it may have been too upbeat to fit in. Oh well, most of the songs are classic Zep lyrics; some less than par, but others an ace in the hole.
Overall Impression — 10
Overall, even though this is one of my favorite Zep albums, it's one that every Zeppelin fan should save until last. It's an album that only a real Zeppelin fan would or could really enjoy, so if your collection of pre-Coda Zeppelin isn't complete yet, I wouldn't recommend this album. But once you've gotten acquainted with your signature Zeppelin sound, however, the album shines through as a stunning achievement. Though it gets criticized for not being on par with other Zeppelin material, I happen to view it as one of the band's greatest achievements. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder, I guess.