On this day forty years ago, Led Zeppelin signaled the begging of the end when they released their final studio album, In Through The Out Door (Atlantic). That title alone should have been then first clue really, that this was not your older brother’s Zep album. The turmoil stricken members fought through loss, and injury, and drugs, and excess, but wound up still making fine music. ITTOD is a solid album with moments of greatness. It’s definitely a late-era gem in their catalog in many ways, but also a signpost to the fatigue they were feeling after over a decade on top of rock’s peak. Drummer John Bonham would pass away just thirteen months and two weeks after this release, more or less ending the band as a regular unit.
The album sure started out strong with the blazing ‘In the Evening’. Everything great about Zep is in this song: creatively, spooky levels of talent, inventiveness (Jimmy Page, as always) and a willingness to make rock conventions unconventional. The fresh piano-driven ‘South Bound Suarez’, is joyous. This album belongs to John Paul Jones at all times. ‘Fool In the Rain’ is the band at one of its most experimental moments, and blending a poppy love song with Afro-Cuban rhythms works a treat. The only acceptable use of a sports whistle in a song besides ‘Paradise City’ too. Extra credit for Page’s second-best guitar solo here and the fire breakbeat from Bonham beforehand. ‘Hot Dog’ is a bit of Country/Skiffle/Honky Tonk fun. Robert Plant seems to shine at the odd times when you aren’t expecting it. At over ten minutes, ‘Carouselaramba’ is a trippy but otherwise pretty average track. It’s got some slick moments early, but the long middle section gives way to a danceable bit that just isn’t satisfying. Finally, the two album-closing tracks bring the spirits back up again. ‘All of My Love’ is remembered as a pop hit, with a synth solo, but Plant’s understated singing and Page’s genius guitar work make this absurdly good. ‘I’m Gonna Crawl’ doesn’t hide its bluesy soul, but lets it shine in a pastoral 1950s Rn B cloak. Almost like it was yearning to rage like the first notes of Led Zeppelin I, but in an older person’s clothes. Overall, by expanding their sound the group was trying to get back to their innocence, perhaps sensing the end.
The album was drubbed when it came out, like almost every album by the band, but in recent years it has definitely held its own. Mixed bag Zep is better than most at their best. It came out in a tough musical climate of Prog and Punk too, where all the bands of that era were swimming against the tide the wrong way. More recently, ‘In the Evening’ got a huge boost in the summer of 2018 as one of the many Zep tunes heard on the gripping HBO mini-series Sharp Objects. Pretty cool stuff for a 50-year-old band and a forty-year-old album, which reminds us that even when they are just mere mortals, they still have an eternal appeal.