Led Zeppelin, Presence

Robert Plant observed in subsequent interviews that Presence was essentially the band's cri de coeur in a time of great turmoil. Being laid up in a roach-infested Greek hospital thousands of miles from your family would certainly qualify, but the band turned that strain into sharpness, which to me is a great relief after the excesses of Physical Graffiti. The production is high quality, but stripped down to an unadorned guitar, base and drums trio that yields an almost desperate, hungry feel to the music I'm sure Jimmy Page intended. "Achilles Last Stand" [sic]'s insistent cadence and tumultuous guitars always struck me as the deepest groans of a helpless giant drowning in circumstance, the perfect way to lead off, but it sort of goes downhill from there. Some of the Graffiti-esque Pommie blues keep popping up, unbidden and unwelcome, in tracks like "For Your Life" and (ugh) "Candy Store Rock," complete with its tedious B-side "Royal Orleans," though the former at least redeems itself by dropping the slavering sweet pretense in the second half. These detract from the raw impact not only of "Achilles" but also the other stand-out tracks, the mournful trudgery of "Tea For One" and the punch of "Nobody's Fault But Mine," where you feel the resignation in Plant's voice but the Bonham/Jones rhythm tells you he'll live. And maybe that's the album's message: the invulnerable British hard rock group made mortal, grappling with a maelstrom they'd never had to face, doing their best to make a stand of their own just as the legends did. (Content: drug references.)