Few reissue campaigns merit more excitement than the prospect of one by Led Zeppelin. Not only is their catalog being remastered for the first time in two decades, but an uncharacteristically large amount of archival material — at least for Zeppelin — is seeing the light of day for the very first time and will accompany each release. The only archival release of this kind we have seen from Zeppelin in the past is 2003’s triple-CD live album How the West Was Won, which blended together two Los Angeles-area gigs from the band’s peak in June of ’72. Led Zep guitarist and producer Jimmy Page oversaw the post-production and release of that live LP, and it’s Page that has taken the initiative of updating the band’s catalog for the digital era, as well, personally remastering the band’s entire discography and painstakingly going through the vaults to excavate the best material for the deluxe edition releases.
Led Zeppelin’s debut, originally released in January of 1969, has long been my favorite Zeppelin album, and it clocked in at #25 on my 100 favorite albums list. So I will refrain from arguing for the merits of the album here, since I have done so elsewhere on this site already. Instead, I will review what must be evaluated with every reissue: the remastering and the bonus material. Remastering, of course, can be hit or miss; though marketed as an upgrade, sometimes remasters are unlistenable compared to previous versions due to heavy dynamic range compression. (The 20th anniversary remaster of Nirvana’s Nevermind is a particularly severe example.) Thankfully, Zep’s debut has been terrifically remastered — the fidelity is outstanding, and the album sounds fuller than ever before (in the digital era, at least).
As for the bonus disc, it consists of a concert recorded in October 1969 at the Olympia music hall in Paris. “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” aren’t played (or just aren’t included), but “Heartbreaker” and “Moby Dick” appear in their place, and a little of “Whole Lotta Love” is brought out towards the end of “How Many More Times.” Since the concert took place two weeks before the release of Led Zeppelin II, it’s not surprising that some songs from their sophomore LP appear, but this is probably the earliest Led Zeppelin concert we will ever get to hear. Some cuts (particularly the 15-minute “Dazed and Confused”) run too long and, if anything, there’s almost too much elasticity here — after a few listens and the thrill of hearing live Zeppelin subsides, this disc will test your patience — but it’s still a privilege to hear the band in its toddler stage, finding its live form.
As reissues go, this is a good one, since the remastering is great and the unearthed live set is a treasure, but compared to other, more elaborate reissues these days, it’s merely a solid offering to a marketplace dense with deep-disced (3+) releases. Given Page’s age, this deluxe edition will likely be the last batch of material receiving his full authorization and careful curation, so we may never get anything better than this, but it’s hard to shake that there had to have been more in the vaults from this period in Zeppelin’s career that would have merited at least an extra disc — especially given that tracks like rough mixes and alternate takes were found for the deluxe editions of Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III. As it stands, this release seems vaguely incomplete, which may not be a fair criticism — Page had no obligation to reissue any of this material at all for us — but there’s no question that as far as 2014 reissues go, the deluxe edition of Led Zeppelin falls slightly short.
[A super deluxe edition was also released, but it didn’t include any additional music. Rather, it combined the CD and vinyl releases of the deluxe edition, included a hi-res download code, and also offered a book with previously unreleased photos.]