Presence/In Through the Out Door/Coda
The final three editions in Jimmy Page's exhaustive overhaul of Led Zeppelin's studio catalog represent the cornerstone band's least championed work. While eclipsed by the greatness of everything that came before them, the new editions of 1976's Presence, 1979's In Through the Out Door and especially 1982's Coda, still prove deserving of places within Zep's mammoth legacy.
Presence and In Through the Out Door have long been unfairly maligned — the former for its studio immediacy in the wake of the years-to-make majesty of its predecessor, Physical Graffiti and the latter for softening Zeppelin's titanic sound after the punk revolution gained critical ground around the band.
There is little additional insight offered in the new editions of the two albums. Even the "companion discs" that have accompanied the previous Zep reissues are here little more than initial mixes of tunes that seldom stray from the original versions, save for Presence's moody piano instrumental 10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod) led by bassist John Paul Jones. But the strengths of the original recordings are enforced by Pages's new mixes, especially during the extended songs that conclude both records — Presence's combustible blues meditation Tea For One (a track worthy of placement on the band's untouchable early albums) and In Through the Out Door's psychedelic croon-a-thon I'm Gonna Crawl (a forerunner of the revivalistic charge singer Robert Plant would front four years later with The Honeydrippers).
Coda is another beast altogether. As the title implied, the album was a postscript. Led Zeppelin has dissolved two years earlier following the death of drummer John Bonham. This posthumous record was, in effect, one of rock 'n' roll's first "rarities" albums, a grab bag of unreleased music that covered the band's reign during the previous decade.
As the last chapter in Page's remastering saga, Coda has grown to a three-disc set that boasts reference tracks of previously released material in a manner similar to the Presence and In Through the Out Door reissues while also allowing for inclusion of several non-album favorites (Hey Hey What Can I Do and a BBC version of Traveling Riverside Blues). There are also several new delights, including the rootsy jaunt Sugar Mama from 1968 that sounds like Immigrant Song with Mississippi lineage and the Led Zeppelin III outtake St. Tristan's Sword, an elemental instrumental driven by Page's chunky guitar groove.
Lest we think these final choruses from the band have been forgotten by fans forever chained to Stairway to Heaven, note this: The reissue of In Through the Out Door entered the Billboard 200 charts this summer, 36 years after its initial release, at No. 9.
Even in its least heralded moments, Led Zeppelin still soars.
Walter Tunis | Contributing Music Critic