The Led Zeppelin “Deluxe Editions”: An Opinion

led zeppelin

“Part of the challenge and excitement of revisiting a record upon reissue is trying to hear the music again with fresh ears, seeing if you can tap into that feeling of discovery that came from hearing it the first time. When (one is) able to mentally put oneself into this place— the kid who got his driver’s license a month ago, driving around listening to (Album X) on tape—the reissue sounds as thrilling as ever.”

The thoughtful prose above came, surprisingly, from Pitchfork, at the beginning of their review for the new Led Zeppelin reissues (I, II & III). I rag on Pitchfork quite a bit, and damn it most of the time I’m right to do so. This was one of those rare Pitchfork reviews devoid of pretension and overflowing with sensitive insight into why Led Zeppelin and these expanded reissues still matter. Yeah, I know. Wow.

I buy a lot of these Expanded/Anniversary/Deluxe/Remastered/Legacy Editions, and the bottom line is simple: some of them are worth it, and some of them aren’t. I have a little over 250 of these, so I thought I’d start to review a few, and I might as well start with these new Led Zep deals. I won’t get into commentary on the original album itself, trying to stick to the following qualities that are important to me, instead. These are the reasons why I buy these deals, and I have attached a handy-dandy percentage to each for those of you inclined to follow along. I’ll try not to get all pitchforkian on your asses here. No 7.3876 scores from moi.

1. Packaging (30%)
2. Bonus Disc(s)/Content-audio and/or visual (40%)
3. Sound quality (20%)
4. Overall Impression (10%)

The packaging of all three of these Led Zep reissues are similar; a slim digi-pack design with faithful representations of the original covers on the front, including III’s die-cut and working pin-wheel thingamajig (if any of you know the official term for that kind of thing, please let me know in the comments section. I KNOW there’s a term for it!). The back covers are sort of a photographic negative version of the originals, meant to represent the bonus disk content, which for the most part are alternate versions of the original songs. The tri-fold digi-pack is nice, but the disks are in their cardboard pockets a little too tight for my comfort. The booklet could have been better, too. No essays, no commentary, just the bare bones facts about the music and players within, complete with a few nice photos. For its faults, I’ll take off 5 points. 25/30

The bonus discs for #2 and #3 are stellar, as I said mostly alternate takes of the originals, but they are better than average and I certainly wouldn’t rate any of these unworthy. The alternate version of Whole Lotta Love, for instance, sounds even more dangerous and vital than the original. This may just be a case of over-familiarity with the original and a “HOLY COW, SOMETHING NEW” syndrome, but whatever, I think it’s pretty cool to have new versions! The bonus disc on Led Zeppelin I, a live concert from around the time of release, is shit. I mean, it sounds like shit. Terribly recorded, I couldn’t finish the whole thing. Just awful, not even worth having as a curio, although I am positive others will find value.  That said, I’d rate II and III perfect scores, and a big fat zero for Zep I’s bonus “material”. 27/40

The sound quality is brilliant. Not much different to the most recent remasters (on, say, the Mothership collection), and certainly not too loud. To my ears this is the best I have ever heard Led Zeppelin. 20/20

My overall impression? Well…I’m impressed, and I have to say it’s about time the individual albums got the respect they deserved, even if they could have been a little better. In the end it’s really all about the music, and what’s here, apart from the live disc, is untouchable. 8/10

Overall score: 80/100

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