First off, let me say that I am a huge fan of the original album – in fact, it’s one of my favorite albums of all time. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, whereas I’ve “only” seen the movie perhaps a dozen times. I also have perhaps a half-dozen LZ bootleg concerts on record, and I must disagree with those, including members of the band, who claim that this was an average concert. The versions of No Quarter, The Song Remains the Same, and Dazed and Confused on the album are perhaps the best that I’ve heard of them in concert, this Stairway is the definitive version, and the solo at the end of Celebration Day on the original album is by far the best version of this song ever. Since I’ve Been Loving You from the movie and this new album is also perhaps the best version of this song that they’ve recorded. Granted, Heartbreaker, The Ocean, and especially Misty Mountain Hop are subpar and the other songs are merely average (although Whole Lotta Love does have a few very special moments), but still this would have to rate among their better concerts.
The things I like about this new issue are:
1. It includes the 2.5 songs (Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, and parts of Heartbreaker) that were included in the movie but not on the album. As I mentioned above, the second of these should never have been omitted from the original album in the first place.
2. It includes another 3.5 songs (The Ocean, Misty Mountain Hop, Over The Hills And Far Away, the rest of Heartbreaker) that didn’t appear either on the album or in the movie. Of these Over The Hills in particular is very good, although the band sounds flat on the others. The Ocean has a lot of energy, but I’ve heard much better versions on other bootlegs.
3. The songs have been remixed, making the bass work stand out more in particular. More jarring is how different Plant’s vocals sound, deeper, with more texture, especially right away on Rock And Roll. It makes you realize how muddy the original record was – it’s clearly the same version of the song, but sounds radically different.
4. Some of Bonham’s great whaling at the end of songs that appeared in the movie but not the album, such at the end of Dazed, I think, are here. So is the entire violin bow part that was partially edited on the album.
For these reasons I have rated this 5 stars despite my disappointment (see below) and recommend purchasing it for fans of the original. But I must say, the original was better. If you don’t have either CD, buy the older one instead.
But now here’s the bad news: Instead of combining the new songs with a remastered version of the original album, they’ve gone back and released the audio from the film, which as any real fan knows is different from the album. Many pieces of the music (especially mistakes – my favorite is when Jones gently chides Bonzo for forgetting a beat) were cut when the album was made, but conversely many small pieces that appear on the album were inexplicably cut from the movie. Moreover, the cuts in the movie are much more obvious: Was there something wrong with the video footage that necessitated these parts being removed? The most egregious jumps occur in the funky part of Whole Lotta Love before the theremin solo, Dazed and Confused between the early vocal parts and the violin bow solo (where the movie also includes some parts not on the album instead), and in a couple of places during the No Quarter guitar solo, which really butchers one of Page’s finest solos ever. Whenever I’ve watched the movie these have always annoyed me – now they irritate me on the album, too. Why couldn’t Page have kept the parts that were cut out of both sources?
But it doesn’t stop there. A lot of Plant’s yelps are missing, such as his “Dig It! Dig It!” during one part of The Song Remains The Same. In fact so many of these are missing, it makes one wonder, Did Page add them from a different recording for the original album? Conversely, some of the vocals that Page wisely edited for the original album (“Hangman!”) are back. The gong hits, such as in No Quarter, have been muted. Some echo effects with the vocals and guitars near the end of Dazed have been removed, whereas others have been added, such as the “Talk!” near the end of The Rain Song. And don’t get me started on what they’ve done to Moby Dick with those flange effects. This wasn’t in the original movie or album and makes the song almost unlistenable. In fact, the drum solo is so chopped up, I can’t recognize it at all.
The introductions to the songs have been rearranged to conform to the movie. “I think this is a song of hope” may be the most recognizable difference, but how could Plant introduce TSRTS as just “This is called the Song Remains The Same” instead of “In between the last time we came and this time we managed to get an album out called ‘Houses of the Holy’ and…we decided that this would be an apt title for a thing that’s called ‘The Song Remains The Same’,” where he mentions that they’re filming? At least now we can hear “John Bonham! John Bonham! John Bonham!”
Probably the most disappointing change is the fact that they’ve used a different version of (at least the end of) Celebration Day from the one on the original album. Granted, it wasn’t in the movie, and for all I know maybe the original album combined versions from different concerts, but it was so good, every time I listen to this new album I immediately want to play the old one just to hear this song.
Page said that he wanted this new CD to match the movie, but I have to ask, Why? So that we can play both at the same time? The original record benefited from the fact that Page could edit the concert, combining the best parts from several different performances and cutting some mistakes, as well as including parts that perhaps couldn’t be included in the movie because the film was missing or damaged. Why couldn’t he have stuck with these sensible decisions? I can only hope that some day another version will be released that includes the entire audio of everything that they have from the MSG shows. I know I’d buy it.