In Through The Out Door
It’s funny how life works out. Given the chance, it is safe to assume Led Zeppelin would have bowed out with one helluva final album. Instead, they ended their career on a rather sedate note, 1979’s In Through The Out Door. It’s a somewhat mellower, less traditional sounding Led Zeppelin. Instead of grand guitar solos and hard-pounding mystical blues and heavy rock, one finds gentler sounds and more exotic styles. Some have suggested—and maybe this is so—that at this point in their career, they were bored with being Led Zeppelin.
In Through The Out Door is perhaps the least “Led Zeppelin” album in their catalog, but it’s exactly that lack of sonic continuity that makes it an appealing listen. Yes, yes, we know that Jimmy Page is a guitar GOD, Robert Plant sings with the voice of all dead bluesmen from the 1920s, and John Bonham’s drumming could cause the dead to rise from their graves. Another record to belabor that point would have been tedious.Instead, they decided to expand their sound and explore styles different from their own. It’s only on the album opening “In The Evening” that they offer a song that keeps to their hard rock tendencies, and album closer “I’m Gonna Crawl” is a heavy, morose blues ballad. “South Bound Suarez” is a glam-rock number that sounds a lot like Queen. “Hot Dog” is a boogie-woogie piano-driven rockabilly number that comes across as a belated tribute to the late Elvis Presley, and the epic “Carouselambra” is pure progressive rock, replete with pulsating synthesizers that sound unlike anything that had appeared on a Led Zeppelin record.
Even though they were unaware that the end was near, In Through The Out Door does close the curtain with two fantastic, now-classic Led Zeppelin numbers. “Fool In The Rain” is an outstanding piano number—comparisons to Billy Joel and Elton John are not unrealistic—and Plant’s voice takes on a rather tender timbre, and the best part of the song comes in the sudden, unexpected blast of joyous South American percussion line. It’s disarming, but it transforms the song into something more. The same can be said of “All My Love,” a song of love and longing that’s punctuated with a powerful, syncopated rhythm. It’s easily the best song on In Through The Out Door, and its role in the canon of classic Led Zeppelin songs is well-deserved. (This reissue also offers up a second disc of “rarities,” but aside from a number of the songs having different working titles, they all suffer from poor sound quality, and are hardly essential listening.)
And thus it was that Led Zeppelin’s world ended with neither bang nor whisper, but with eyes placed firmly ahead, a voyage into a new direction. We’ll never know exactly what could have been, and that is okay; we are denied the possibility of greatness that might have been, but so too are we denied a descent into mediocrity.