When Led Zeppelin recorded their sixth album they had too much material for a single LP, so they threw in some outtakes from previous albums to create a double. Because of its sheer size, Physical Graffiti encapsulates everything they’d done up to that point; blues rock, catchy riff rock, folk, and epic prog rock are all contained in this sprawling set; it’s often referred to as their most representative record for a good reason. There isn’t much new ground covered, though – Eastern influences on ‘In The Light’ and the funk of ‘Trampled Underfoot’ are the notable exceptions – after Physical Graffiti Led Zeppelin stopped being the innovators and settled down into a less prominent role in rock.
If Physical Graffiti was trimmed down to a single album it would probably be Led Zeppelin’s best; in fact, the first disc of the set is arguably their best ever, containing two immense epics and a handful of other great songs. ‘In My Time Of Dying’ may be overlong at eleven minutes, but there is an unstoppable power in its heavy blues attack that’s hard to deny. The eight and a half minute ‘Kashmir’ is massively creative, with a powerful string arrangement courtesy of Jones and an arrangement that contrasts a straight 4/4 drum beat against the other instruments and vocals in 3/4. It’s also one of Plant’s most evocative lyrics and vocal performances; lines like “I am a traveller of both time and space” give the song an otherworldly power. Among the shorter songs, Houses of the Holy outtake ‘The Rover’ stands out as one of the group’s most overlooked moments, a straight up rock song with a great riff from Page. Jones leads the group through a funk excursion in ‘Trampled Underfoot’ with a stylish keyboard riff that’s a nod to Stevie Wonder, before Page and Plant make their respective contributions with a dirty guitar riff and automotive analogies.
The second disc is less unified and consistent than the first, but again features a couple of strong epics. The keyboard dominated Eastern stylings of ‘In The Light’ are attributable mostly to Jones; it’s slow moving and reliant on atmosphere, but when the main hook comes in it’s irresistible. ‘Ten Years Gone’ is a sweet and evocative relationship song, while ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ is an absolutely gorgeous two minute folk acoustic guitar piece, which is so distinctive that it’s surprising that it’s not more widely known. The last side of the LP version is easily the least impressive; it’s lacking the identity of their other work and it’s easily more generic than anything they’d done before. ‘Night Flight’ and ‘The Wanton Song’ are catchy enough, but none of the last three songs are particularly impressive
Despite trailing off at the end, Physical Graffiti still has more great songs then any other Led Zeppelin album, and it’s easily one of their best, even if its sprawling nature makes it less approachable than their earlier efforts.