Sound — 9
1976 saw the release of Led Zeppelin's first live album, the soundtrack to the slightly bizarre cinematic experience that was The Song Remains The Same. Now in 2007 the performance from Madison Square Gardens, New York, has been reworked and re-released. The new edition features not only an extensive remastering of the sounds of the previous version, but has also been expanded with six new tracks, so it now contains the entire setlist from the 1974 show. Four of the six new songs were included on the Led Zeppelin DVD released in 2003: Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I've Been Loving You and The Ocean. These do not differ greatly from the DVD release, although I think that some were taken from a different night of the concert series. Although opinions differ on the subject, I think that all four of these tracks are Led Zeppelin's best versions on record. Black Dog is a full two minutes longer than even the DVD version, featuring an intro pinched from Bring It On Home. I don't think there is another official live version of Misty Mountain Hop out there, but there doesn't need to be. John Bonham's drumming is particularly outstanding on this track. Since I've Been Loving You features some incendiary guitar work, with a particularly beautiful tone emanating from Jimmy's Les Paul. The Ocean is an improvement even upon the version from How The West Was Won, with an extra little solo in the outro that doesn't feature in HTWWW. The other two new songs are equally spectacular: Over The Hills and Far Away is an interesting listen. Robert Plant makes some unusual but effective changes to the vocal melody and Jimmy Page includes part of his 'Immigrant Song' solo in the middle instrumental section. Heartbreaker sounds very impressive indeed after the remastering, but I'm not sure any version is capable of matching the astonishing recording from How The West Was Won. The original songs from the soundtrack benefit hugely from Kevin Shirly's remastering skills. There really is a world of difference between the two versions. It even makes Moby Dick's drum solo sound sufficiently exciting to maintain my interest for a whole 11 minutes! Several songs are taken from different nights of the concert series to those featured on the original release. This doesn't really affect things greatly, although certain bits are markedly different: the guitar solo from No Quarter and the 'San Francisco' jam from D&C being two such instances. It may just be that I'm used to the old versions, but I'm not sure it's really a change for the better. However, the better sounds quality probably makes up for those niggles.
Lyrics — 8
Robert Plant is in pretty fine voice throughout the proceedings. I'm not sure he's ever quite as sure footed on stage as he is in the studio, but the power and spontaneity of his live performances more than make up for the odd flat note. The Plant/Page interchange in the middle of Whole Lotta Love sounds all the better for the remastering.
Overall Impression — 9
I don't know why, but the performances on the original soundtrack always got a bit panned, particularly in light of the power of the performances on How The West Was Won. If you're one of those people who didn't really like the original soundtrack, and if you already have HTWWW and the Led Zep DVD, then you can probably give this one a miss. I was already a great fan of this album before the new edition came out, so to me a remasteirng coupled with the inclusion of new songs was extremely welcome. I don't really understand why the original was received so badly. Rock & Roll and Celebration Day are full of energy, Dazed and Confused is more haunting than any other version I've heard, Stairway is always great, the version of No Quarter is just one of my favourite Led Zeppelin songs of all time. To those of you who don't actively dislike the versions from the original soundtrack, this album has a lot of points in its favour: fantastic new sound thanks to Mr. Shirly, new material bumps the running time up to 130 mins, meaning it's a lot of music for your money. Moby Dick is a length that's impressive but still listenable, unlike the draining 19 minutes that HTWWW puts you through! Misty Mountain Hop is just so damn good, and you won't find an official live version elsewhere in audio format. In short, the new edition of the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same is an excellent recording of what I think are some of Led Zeppelin's best live moments. This reviewer heartily recommends it.