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Until their remarkable 2007 reunion gig at the O2 Arena, Led Zeppelin reunions were fairly catastrophic affairs. Their appearance at Live Aid was shambolic, as was their set at Atlantic Records' 40th birthday celebrations. While Page and Plant reunited for this 'No Quarter' project, it probably wasn't just the absence of former bassist John Paul Jones that made this project most definitely not a LZ reunion; the ghost of one too many disappointments had probably left them wary of going out under that banner again.
'No Quarter' is a curious musical outing. While Page and Plant may have made their names raising hell and making some excellent loud rock in the 70s, this is anything but a rock album. Recruiting a full Moroccan orchestra to their cause, they embarked on a project to rework some old Led Zeppelin songs in an entirely new guise. While LZ may have flirted with Eastern sounds on their records with songs such as 'White Summer', 'Friends' and 'Kashmir', here their interest is taken to a whole new level. Plant tones down the blues wailing, and Page mostly opts for a guitar that requires no wattage. It's an experiment that mostly works.
Opener 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' is almost unrecognsiable from the version on 'Presence'. No longer an amped up slice of Delta blues, it moans and grinds to a hypnotic tribal beat. The hazy, dusty sound of the desert has come down on these songs, and they have remodeled their works to interesting effect. 'Friends' was a song that was always going to lend itself to such a musical environment, as was 'Four Sticks', as the percussion section get their teeth into its unfettered rhythmic surge and clatter away on all sorts of exotic instruments.
Peppering the album is a handful of original compositions, which were quite clearly inspired by the north African sounds and setting that form the backdrop. 'Wah Wah' is a bit of a jam around some tribal sounding drums, and 'City Don't Cry' is a bit similar. 'Wonderful One' is a ballad that quietly murmurs, and is reminiscent of Plant's solo work when he decides to wander off into the land of reflection and incense. 'Yallah' is its opposite though, with aggressive vocals and threatening, spiked arrangements sounding like jackals calling in the desert night, while Page plugs his guitar in to coax some hypnotic sounds out of his strings. It could easily have come from Led Zeppelin 3 or Physical Graffiti.
Closing the album off is the track that this project was born to tackle - the mighty and majestic 'Kashmir'. Already written in an eastern mode, the titanic riff is still very much at the centre of the piece, but with the orchestral lines snaking about it and tussling with each other. It's an embellishment that suits it exactly. And the title track, another great epic, is twisted and distorted to become almost unrecognisable from its original brooding, submarine sound.
I enjoyed hearing the new angles and takes that they brought to these songs. In many ways it's a shame that they didn't invite John Paul Jones to participate and call themsleves Led Zeppelin once more, as it really could have worked; in terms of musicianship and ambition it stands up with their 70s work, although perhaps stylistically it is too far removed. And if they had gone out as Led Zeppelin, I imagine a lot of people wouldn't 'get' it, as they weren't looking to fill arenas and play 'Whole Lotta Love' night after night.
If you like Led Zeppelin, or the meeting of eastern and western music, then this is definitely worth a look, especially as it can be picked up on Amazon for a couple of pounds.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Nobody's Fault But Mine
2 Thank You
3 No Quarter
6 City Don't Cry
7 Since I've Been Loving You
8 Battle Of Evermore
9 Wonderful One
10 Wah Wah
11 That's The Way
12 Gallows Pole
13 Four Sticks