When Led Zeppelin went into the studio to record its eighth album in 1978, it was beset on all sides by depressing circumstances. Lead singer Robert Plant had lost his son to a virus the previous year; drummer John Bonham was struggling with heavy alcoholism, and guitarist Jimmy Page with heroin addiction. The band had exiled itself from England for tax reasons for two years, and the nascent punk movement threatened to render it irrelevant. Most importantly, and unbeknownst to the band, it was recording its last album.
Led Zeppelin was divided against itself during the studio sessions. Basically, Plant and bassist John Paul Jones were the only ones to show up on time, so they’d start writing and rehearsing songs, which were later augmented by Page and Bonham, working on entirely opposite schedules.
Not surprisingly, Plant and Jones dominate the material while Page and Bonham, the band’s heavy hitters, phone it in. According to Page, he and Bonham intended to immediately follow up the album with “a hard-driving rock album” but it was not to be. Bonham died the following year, effectively ending the band.
In Through The Out Door sold well but was poorly reviewed, and has a diminished stature in the band’s catalog (the album was initially released in a plain brown wrapper, compounding its shame). This is unfortunate, as it’s a solid set of songs with a distinctly dark mood that both serves as a continuation of Zeppelin’s work to date and reflects the band’s desperate circumstances in the last year of its existence.
Page may have been barely there but he was still the greatest guitarist of all time. His work ranges from perfect to perfectly weird throughout. Meanwhile, Jones’ tastefully applied Yamaha GX-1 keyboard gives the album an otherworldly sheen. Three songs from the session—“Wearing and Tearing”, “Ozone Baby” and “Darlene”—surfaced on the 1982 postscript Coda; expanding the picture of Zeppelin in its final throes.