Armchair therapists will have a field day with this ethereal, electronica-pop in that the lead vocalist Chris Martin has admitted it was inspired by the end of his decade-long marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow. Nick Drake enthusiasts will have a field day with “Oceans,” which honors Drake from its strings-enhanced acoustic setting to its rain-drenched imagery. Universalizing the emotional bankruptcy attendant upon dashed emotional investment is clearly the goal. Martin and band come so close so often you’ll believe they might someday reach it.
The words and lead vocals come from indie-rock’s most endearing weirdo (Fair), the melodies, backing vocals, and most of the instrumentation from Christian rock’s strangest band (Danielson). Members of the offbeat polka ensemble Brave Combo provide embellishment. Bizarre by mainstream and most “alternative” standards, the 11 resulting songs actually comprise some of the most immediately accessible music that any of the participants have ever recorded. Most impressive, Fair has delivered words consistent with Danielson’s positivity if not, specifically (unless “Standin’ up for righteousness!” counts), with its faith.
Stanton doesn’t sing the Kris Kristofferson song that inspired this documentary soundtrack’s title. But he does sing—and sometimes adds poignant harmonica and insightful comments to—“Danny Boy,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” “Blue Bayou,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” the theme from Paris, Texas, and five other songs close to his weather-beaten, soon-to-be 88-year-old heart. Jamie James accompanies on acoustic guitar, Don Was on bass. Casual, beautiful, and frail, in that order.
In the bubonic-plague-inspired title cut, God is a she. In “Temporary Ground” he’s a he. In “Entitlement,” it’s a toss-up. The conflict inherent in such confusion fuels the music, a restless, loud, abrasive mash-up of rock, blues, glam, and the kitchen sink best exemplified by the careening instrumental “High Ball Stepper.” Vinyl fetishists get a retro artifact replete with holographic angel. “Alone in My Home” carries Buddy and Julie Miller’s torch. “That Black Bat Licorice” name-checks Jack Chick. In short, a mess worth parsing.
Who’d have thought that Led Zeppelin, 45 years after its debut and 34 after its dissolution, would place three albums in Billboard’s Top 10? Yet there the albums are, no small achievement in the age of Frozen. Anti-rock evangelists were correct to excoriate Plant, Page, Jones, and Bonham for the capacity of their debauchery to inspire copycat sins. What those evangelists didn’t foresee was a musical future so impersonally electronic that in it the quartet’s Dionysian blues-folk would sound simply, even radically, human.
That future is now our present. The albums in question are Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II (1969), and Led Zeppelin III (1970) (Atlantic Catalog), reissued and fattened to two discs with live cuts, rough mixes, and other arcana of intermittent interest. Anti-rock evangelists are no doubt inspecting them for “backward masking” even now. The seminal Discs One, meanwhile, have taken on a life of their own. The soberer you are, the harder they hit. —A.O.