Wednesday, 6 April 2016

"Mothership" by LED ZEPPELIN (2007 Swan Song/Atlantic '2CD' vs. '2CD + 1DVD' Version Remasters, including 2015 Jimmy Page Remasters Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Gonna Make You Sweat...Gonna Make You Groove…" 

This compilation features tracks from "Led Zeppelin III" which was released October 1970

There seems to be some confusion over "Mothership" especially with regard to the 'sound'. While it's not exactly the 'Motherlode' in terms of track content – soundwise it's streets ahead of what's been offered before and at times just BREATHTAKING in its clarity. 

And in 2016 there are now two versions - the November 2007 original that used John Davis Remasters - and the November 2015 reissue which uses the new Jimmy Page 2014/2015 Remasters. Here are the heavy on the downbeat details...

As you'll see from the track list below - all eight official 'studio' albums from 1969 through to 1979 are represented on this newly remastered compilation. The awful live double that is "The Song Remains The Same" from 1976 is wisely not featured at all on "Mothership" – neither is the 8-song odds and sods compilation "Coda" from 1982 which contained studio out-takes and live tracks recorded between 1969 and 1978.

There are three 2007 versions of "Mothership" – the standard 2CD issue (minus DVD) is on Swan Song/Atlantic 8122 79961 5 (use Barcode 081227996154 in Amazon to locate it) and a 4LP Vinyl Box Set Edition on Swan Song/Atlantic/Rhino R1 344700 (use the Barcode 081227995133 to locate that). This review deals with what's been called the 'Deluxe Edition' issue that offers 2CDs and 1DVD. 

UK released November 2007 – the 2CD and 1DVD version of the "Mothership" compilation by LED ZEPPELIN on Swan Song/Atlantic 8122 79961 3 (Barcode 081227996130) has all tracks newly remastered by JOHN DAVIS at Alchemy Mastering in London and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (66:18 minutes):
1. Good Times Bad Times
2. Communication Breakdown
3. Dazed And Confused
4. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Tracks 1 to 4 are from their debut vinyl album "Led Zeppelin" - originally issued 12 January 1969 in the USA on Atlantic SD-8216 and 31 March 1969 in the UK on Atlantic 588 171

5. Whole Lotta Love
6. Ramble On
7. Heartbreaker
Tracks 5 to 7 are from their "Led Zeppelin II" LP - originally released 22 October 1969 in the USA on Atlantic SD-8236 and Atlantic 588 198 in the UK

8. Immigrant Song
9. Since I've Been Loving You
Tracks 8 and 9 are from their "Led Zeppelin III" LP - originally released 5 October 1970 in the USA on Atlantic SD-7291 and Atlantic 2401 002 in the UK

10. Rock And Roll
11. Black Dog
12. When The Levee Breaks
13. Stairway To Heaven
Tracks 10 to 13 are from their "Untitled" LP – released 8 November 1971 in the USA on Atlantic SD 7208 and Atlantic 2401012 in the UK. Officially their 4th album was 'untitled' but of course is often referred to as "Led Zeppelin IV", "Four Symbols", "Runes" and "ZoSo" (the ZoSo title derives from the four symbols that appear at the top of the Atlantic Records label on the November 1971 LP - Zodiac letters for each member of the band – ZoSo being Jimmy Page).

Disc 2 (69:21 minutes):
1. The Song Remains The Same
2. Over The Hills And Far Away
3. D’Yer Maker
4. No Quarter
Tracks 1 to 4 are from the "Houses Of The Holy" LP – released 23 March 1973 in the USA on Atlantic SD 7255 and in the UK on Atlantic K 50014

5. Trampled Under Foot
6. Houses Of The Holy
7. Kashmir
Tracks 5 to 7 are from "Physical Graffiti" – a 2LP set released 24 February 1975 in the UK on Swan Song SSK 89400 and Swan Song SS 2-200 in the USA. It went to Number 1 in both countries and shipped over 8 million copies in the USA alone.

8. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
9. Achilles Last Stand
Tracks 8 and 9 are from the single album "Presence" – released 31 March 1976 in the USA on Swan Song SS 8416 and in the UK on Swan Song SSK 59402

10. In The Evening
11. All My Love
Tracks 10 and 11 are from their 8th and final studio album "In Through The Out Door" – released 15 August 1979 in the USA on Swan Song SS 16002 and in the UK on Swan Song SSK 59410

DVD (2003 Remasters, Excerpts from the "Led Zeppelin" 2DVD set, Digital DTS Surround, Playback All Regions)
1. We're Gonna Groove
2. I Can't Quit You Babe
3. Dazed And Confused
4. White Summer
5. What Is And What Should Never Be
6. Moby Dick
7. Whole Lotta Love
8. Communication Breakdown
9. Bring it On Home
10. Immigrant Song
11. Black Dog
12. Misty Mountain Hop
13. The Ocean
14. Going To California
15. In My Time Of Dying
16. Stairway To Heaven
17. Rock And Roll
18. Nobody's Fault But Mine
19. Kashmir
20. Whole Lotta Love

As you can see - "Zeppelin II" sees only 3 tracks on Disc 1, while the debut gets 4. This misses out on gems from "II" like "Moby Dick", "Livin' Lovin' Maid (She's Just A Woman)" and "What Is And What Should Never Be" - odd omissions for an album that is constantly cited in magazine polls by the public as their "favorite rock album ever". Worse however is "III", often referred to by fans as their 'acoustic' album. By only representing it with "Immigrant Song" and "Since I've Been Loving You", you get the 'feeling' that the album is like its two predecessors - 'hard rock' - when it actually contains some of their most beautiful and underrated softer tracks, especially the gorgeous acoustic workout "That's The Way". Four songs from the iconic and brilliant "IV" are only right and proper - and some would argue the entire album should be on here (the lyrics to "Black Dog" title this review).

Downside: as you can see from the playing time, a full 13 minutes on Disc 1 could have been used up - and isn't. Extending the acoustic theme to "IV", the equally wonderful "The Battle Of Evermore" (Sandy Denny on backing vocals) is missing too when there was room. Coupled with "That's The Way" - both would have made for huge bonuses and more importantly made the disc more representative of the band. The 'acoustic' element of Zeppelin (which was featured in most of their live sets) is oddly absent here - a mistake I think. Their diversity as a band - away from just hard rock - is one of the reasons for their enduring appeal and why fans love them so. "Hey Hey (What Can I Do Now)" the brilliant non-album B-side to the US 45 of "Immigrant Song" would have been a tasty choice too - but again - a no show. It's well cool to see key album cuts like "In My Time Of Dying", "What Is And What Should Never Be", "Bring It On Home" and "The Ocean" featured on the truncated DVD – a single 'excerpts' disc culled from 2003's "Led Zeppelin" 2DVD release – widely praised for its excellence. It also includes rarities like "We're Gonna Groove" and "White Summer"...

Upside: Disc 1 has very clever sequencing on it and listening to the song selection straight through is a superb and impressive experience. The space around the opening guitars of "Baby I'm Gonna Leave You" is ethereal and beautiful. The fabulous guitar-work in the left speaker on "Ramble On" from "II" catches your ear too - and Plant's double vocals - great.  I could hear the band count One Two Three on the fade in to "Immigrant Song". Genius choice however, goes to the stunning blues workout of "Since I've Been Loving You" from "III". Sounding just fantastic, the squeaking of Bonham's drum pedals can be heard just a few milliseconds before Page launches into that blistering guitar riff (lyrics above). And finally - at long last - the remastering has brought out the full ferocity of Bonham's drumming and Plant's harmonica playing in the simply awesome "When The Levee Breaks" - cleverly placed before "Stairway" and not after it - rounding off Disc 1 very nicely.

The sound quality on Disc 1 in particular is BREATHTAKING. Page transferred the original master tapes carefully to digital in 1991 for "The Complete Studio Recordings" and John Davis of Alchemy Mastering in London has used these for the 2007 Remasters. They are better and in some cases unbelievably so.

It's clear the band feel that "Houses" is a bit under appreciated as an album so no less than 4 tracks are featured including the clever placing of the reggae "D'yer Maker" with Bonham and Jones both playing a rhythm section storm. But to leave off the melodic winner that is "The Rain Song" is a huge omission. Three from the mighty "Physical Graffiti" - but again the wonderful "Ten Years Gone" and the rocking "Custard Pie" are not here. For me album number six "Presence" was a tedious listen in 1976 and still is now - despite people trying to reappraise it. I really don't need to hear the 10 minutes of "Achilles Last Stand" ever again when the blues finisher "Tea For One" would have been a braver choice. And last up is "In Through The Out Door" which is featured here by "In The Evening" - the album's great opener. But the truly awful "All My Love" finishes Disc 2 when the funkier "For Your Love" would have been better. Also - as with Disc 1 - with only 69 minutes used - there was enough room for a more varied musical picture. And even though its brilliant stuff - why ask fans to pay for a 2003 DVD of material they will already own - when a live disc should have been Disc 3 - representing the band in what 'they' feel is their best arena?

The 24-page booklet is both tasteful yet ever so slightly (and strangely) disappointing. None of the eight gorgeous and often elaborate album covers are pictured (where the hell is the artwork that was such an integral to their releases?) and there are mentions of US 7" single releases in the track by track details but no pictures of any - nor any fan-pleasing rare 7" picture sleeves from around the world either. There’s no sense of Led Zeppelin's global effect on Rock - not even a UK or US discography with catalogue numbers. But DAVID FRICKE's essay using a November 1968 Atlantic Records publicity announcement as its title ("Hot, New English Group Led Zeppelin") is very good – offering up a brief but highly informative history of this colossal rock band and its output across 12 pages. And at least the wholesale nicking of blues tunes is finally acknowledged in the writer's credits for "Whole Lotta Love" (a Willie Dixon song made famous by Muddy Waters), Anne Bredon for "Baby I'm Gonna Leave You" and Memphis Minnie for "When The Levee Breaks".

Some have said this compilation is 'money for old rope' - I don't see it that way. Without doubt, the 1991 Remasters by Jimmy Page were way better than the crappy 80s issues when issued but these 2007 upgrades have been long overdue and sounding as good as they do - they're to be welcomed. If ever a band deserved lavish attention spent on their catalogue - it's Zeppelin. The set it flawed for sure - but the audio is great - and if you don't already own the 2DVD set "Led Zeppelin" (as yet not on BLU RAY) – then that 90-minute bonus visual disc is going to a serious treat for newcomers.

2014 and 2015 would eventually see their catalogue get a Jimmy Page makeover with double and triple-disc 'Deluxe Editions' of all albums including a 3CD "Coda" (see reviews for I, II, III, IV, Houses Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti). There are even Vinyl variants. November 2015 has seen a 2CD and 4LP reissue of "Mothership" which uses those 2014/2015 Jimmy Page Remasters - the 2CD set is Swan Song/Atlantic 081227950934 and the 4LP Vinyl Box is Swan Song/Atlantic 08122795109 (same digits are their barcodes - use those to locate them on Amazon). And although it's not stated anywhere on the actual digipak or discs – for marketing purposes they've been subtitled "The Very Best Of Led Zeppelin" on shrink-wrap stickers.

In April 2016 (as I write this review) the original 2007 2CD variant of "Mothership" is so past a sell-by-date that it’s been regularly showing up in big supermarkets for a fiver (amazing value for money) – and I recently saw the new 2015 issue do the same only five months after its reissue. But I'd argue if you've the readies plumb for the 2007 "Mothership" ‘2CD/1DVD’ variant instead because that visual stuff really is worth the extra wedge.

What a band and what a compilation "Mothership" is. In any of its forms – Led Zeppelin's "Mothership" tramples (under foot) all pretenders and shows why this best of British Rock groups is so beloved and revered - and nearly fifty years after the event – are still one of the most collectable bands on the planet.

"Hey! Hey! Mama" indeed...

No comments: