Top of the Pops: In Through the Out Doors

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July 19, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

If Led Zeppelin ever made a bad album, it would have to be 1979’s In Through the Out Door, the band’s final album. It’s not an irredeemable album, nor is it an unenjoyable album; it just sounds like the world’s greatest band going through the motions, half-assing it. The album has no inspiration, motivation, nor the transubstantiation of early albums. The album is experimental, as it was largely spearheaded by John Paul Jones, who goes a little apeshit with the synthesizers, but not for the sake of expanding musical horizons. It’s experimental in that no one would ever have thought that Led Zeppelin would make a pop album where Jones’ keyboard overpowers Page’s guitars.

In Through the Out Door was recorded while the band was at their lowest. Plant was getting over the death of his child and had to be coaxed out of quitting the band; John Bonham was no longer the functional alcoholic, but a full blown one, and Jimmy Page was just beginning his three year spiral into heroin addiction. That left the door wide open for Jones (who wrote more songs on the album than did Page) to usher in the 80s a year early.

On certain tracks, the over usage of keyboards and synth works perfectly, like on “Fool in the Rain” a sweet song about a naïve young man waiting for the girl of his dreams to meet him at the street corner. “Fool in the Rain” is supposed to be driven by the piano, it’s not forced in there. The samba bridge is a nice addition to mix things up a bit, and shows us that the band still has more tricks up their sleeves. “Fool in the Rain” works because it’s a sweet, sappy song that everyone can enjoy at its face value. There isn’t a lot of effort put in, but a pop song like that fits in nicely with the plethora of mammoth hits in the bands canon.

Tracks like album opener “In the Evening”, “South Bound Saurez” and “Hot Dog” are all examples of why the album ultimately fails. “In the Evening” is Led Zeppelin doing the least passible version of their bare minimum as musicians, “South Bound Saurez” should be a C-side, and even though “Hot Dog” is a thoroughly enjoyable song it sounds lazy and futile, as if the band had literally nothing else to record. None of these songs are bad, it’s just that by 1979 we have proof that Led Zeppelin was capable of so much more.

Opening up side two of In Through the Out Door is its epic “Carouselambra”, the bands most 80s sounding song ever recorded. People often say that this is the worst song ever written by the band, but I disagree. It’s 81% synth, 12% drums, and 7% Robert Plant’s voice echoing around an amphitheater, but it’s not unlistenable. It’s an interesting risk of the band to make a synth epic, much the same way that “Achilles Last Stand” was a guitar epic, but it shouldn’t be over 10 minutes long, nor was it what we’d come to expect from the band. At their most eccentric they introduced us to folk-blues, never in 100 years did we think they’d ever go pop. But because “Carouselambra” is the pinnacle of that pop, overly 80s sound, it becomes the poster child and whipping boy for everything that’s wrong with In Through the Out Door.

In as much as it can, considering the lack of effort and personal tribulations the band endured during recording, In Through the Outdoor actually ends on a rather strong note. The hauntingly pensive “All My Love”, a tribute to Plant’s deceased son Karac, is the most beautiful song the band had written since “Ten Years Gone”. Narrowly edging out the samba bridge in “Fool in the Rain” for the best moment on the album comes at the end of “All My Love” as it is fading out when Robert Plant whispers “I get a little bit lonely”. The sincere sense of loss that permeates through, even though it’s being silenced is almost enough to make you cry. There was no way that In Through the Out Door was going to be recorded without a song commemorating Karac, and with “All My Love”, it proves to be a most fitting and beautifully serene tribute.

Closing out the album, and Led Zeppelin’s career is “I’m Gonna Crawl”, a song that serves as a throwback to late 50s blues-soul. This is one of the few examples in the history of the band where a minimalist approach actually works to their advantage. The drums are firm but not bombastic, the guitar functions more as a hazy mist instead of the torrential downpour that we are used to, and Plant is more passive than we’ve ever seen him. Lines like “she’s the apple of my eye” and “If I dream too much at night, somebody please bring me down” augment the times when Plant lets loose on, when he hollers “Every little bit of my love!”. The song sounds like a dream, as if the band is sailing away from reality, and sure enough a year later, following the death of drummer John Bonham, Led Zeppelin was done.

Had Bonham not died, and Zeppelin carried on into the 80s, Page has often said that the follow up album would have been more guitar oriented, returning the band to their roots. I don’t know if I believe that since other rock bands like the Rolling Stones, and the Who went 80s, with their overly produced synth driven albums, and shitty haircuts to match their oversized suits. Even though In Through the Out Door is not a perfect send off for Led Zeppelin, “I’m Gonna Crawl” is the most fitting way for the band to depart. They sail off into this misty, dreamlike, surreal voyage never to return again. The epic grandeur of Led Zeppelin toned down to a rather sublime ending; not with a band but a whimper.

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