Having a vocalist who had just suffered a car accident and was in the studio with his leg in plaster can’t have helped matters. Spending a year out of the UK for tax reasons can’t really have helped matters either – away from family and friends, getting on each other nerves? As it is, ‘Presence’ was recorded in a mere matter of weeks and sailed to number one on both sides of the atlantic based on the groups massive popularity alone. Presenting music fans with a mere seven songs after the double-album ‘Physical Graffiti’ seems a little measly, though. There’s no two ways about it, ‘Presence’ isn’t an album with any great structural cohesion behind it. Still, we do have at least one bona-fide all time Zeppelin classic here, the storming electrifying ten and a half minute long ‘Achilles Last Stand’. Strong rhythm section work and a wired, anxious sounding Jimmy Page. In fact, the work Jimmy Page does on ‘Achilles Last Stand’ combined with the usual immense Zep rhythm section – gives off the feeling that Led Zeppelin, under better circumstances, could have used this song as a starting point to create an entire album around of similar quality. As it is, ‘Achilles Last Stand’ almost is the entire album. This 10-minute track alone is worth the price of admission, led by its galloping grooves, a particularly haunting Plant vocal (who sounds less rough voiced here than elsewhere), and several show stopping give and take segments between Page and Bonham. During these thrilling exchanges, Bonham’s titanic drum fills interlock with Page’s wailing guitar parts, seizing several moments of tension that build to the bursting point. Alas, for reasons largely beyond their control (i.e. “the curse of Led Zeppelin”), the awe-inspiring “Achilles Last Stand” was to be Zep’s last truly monumental track.
Elsewhere, we have a riff in search of a song with ‘For Your Life’, the admittedly entertaining likes of ‘Royal Orleans’ and ‘Candy Store Rock’. These are decent supporting songs, but the suspicion remains, there simply isn’t any great point or purpose to this ‘Presence’ album. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is an excellent, hard rocking song on which the band (especially Bonham, who is in first-rate form throughout the album) is firing on all cylinders, while Plant gives a compelling, stuttered vocal performance and is even a standout on harmonica (as on previous songs such as “Bring It On Home,” “When The Levee Breaks,” and “In My Time Of Dying”). Unfortunately, since Blind Willie Johnson had recorded the song in the ’20s (though as per usual Zep’s significantly different), once again Zep were accused of plagiarism, which could’ve been avoided had they simply afforded Johnson a deserved co-writing credit.
Jimmy Page is consistently impressive, the rhythm section are solid as you would expect. ‘Hots On For Nowhere’ sounds like a band sleep-walking. ‘Tea For One’ doesn’t seem tight and running to nine minutes is rather over-long for the amount of musical and lyrical ideas it contains. One of the better pieces arrives with ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ – a song rising to a heavy section of loud drums and squealing guitar. Considering ‘Presence’ with the mighty ‘Achilles Last Stand’ combined with the likes of ‘Nobodys Fault But Mine’ or ‘Candy Store Rock’, it still remains a minor Zeppelin work, simply because there is so little else here that’s particularly impressive or memorable.