No Quarter: But a little help from some friends

This is not a Robert Plant solo album. But this, along with Now and Zen and Raising Sand is one third of the trilogy of important albums of Plant’s career.

This is not a Led Zeppelin album either—no matter how much I reference the band

For over a decade, the former frontman ran as far away as possible from the Zeppelin catalogue as he exited from his youthful Apollon rock career into the first steps of a muddled musical journey struggling with maturity.

He attempted to climb new walls while still running into others. Arena rock became his muse, but it never really felt natural. Something was missing. The intense spirituality he exuded as the voice of Zeppelin had been replaced by an agnostic approach.

Neither here nor there, always going in circles with his inspirations. You would not know where he wanted to go because he did not even know where he wanted to go.

No Quarter put an end to this dawdling and meandering pace to his career. It’s a reenergizing return to roots filled with mixing eastern and western influences, the sweet sound of Page’s guitar and grandiose orchestrations.

Railing off acoustic reworks that not only nail but transcend the Zeppelin versions, No Quarter features the acoustic hammer riff of a “Gallow’s Pole,” a seductive, snaking melody on “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” a climatically explosive “That’s The Way”,” and a “Four Sticks” beat that will pummel your brain into liquid until it drips out your ears.

I didn’t even care for songs like “That’s The Way” and “Gallow’s Pole” much, as Led Zeppelin III comes in at the bottom of my list of favourites (by way of disinterest rather than hate, to tell the truth). These songs never popped on that album. But now, in an acoustic yet orchestral setting these songs snap, crackle and pop with the electricity of hurdy-gurdy’s, strings, and tribal percussion.

Huh, that’s pretty ironic when given thought.

Here’s the rub though—whether on the original or the reissue, the track list messes with cuts from the Unplugged recording.

The original cuts “Wah Wah” and “The Rain Song,” and my mouth still froths with the foam of rage by consequence. If any cut still proves that Page and Plant still have it, it lies in the pure yet calm, showering ecstasy of “The Rain Song.”

The reissue cuts down “City Don’t Cry” and “Wonderful One” and cuts out a rendering “Thank You” that is also a wonderful one. Sorry but who cuts the two toweringly good original pieces by the unledded duo when “The Truth Explodes” (titled “Yallah” on the first issue) still screams on far too long.

And who cuts out “Thank You?” It may come second to “The Rain Song” on the ballads list, but that doesn’t mean that the latter should not delete the former. It kills me, it kills me.

What brings the listener back to life, though?

The richness of Maghrebin instrumentation (even in “Yallah!”) deepens this album by the tens of fathoms, rather than just relying on the strength of old material refurbished to London and Egyptian orchestras. The most crucial, criminally missing element, however?  An orgasmic “When The Levee Breaks” is deleted from both editions.

Kill me a little more softly, why dontcha boys? It comes down to preference choosing, but why you gotta make a man choose?

Problems aside this album contains some killer runs. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” starts the procession in suspense before dropping a mean-guillotine of a riff. Jimmy Page flows through “Thank You” into “No Quarter” and finishes with a mind-bender “Friends” render. Where Page’s guitar originally grew like wild mushrooms, it’s now opened by a mystical ney and backed up by the grandeur of two orchestras morphing to the cut’s needs.

Add in Plant’s vocals and this cut is sufficiently dosed.

But this capped excursion holds no water candle to the trip that is “Wonderful One” into the “Kashmir” to end all motherfucking “Kashmirs.” No other live version pulls together all the threads to this Maghrebin story book song and nothing ever will. It’s not the definitive version, that still goes to the Physical Graffiti cut, but damn if it is not a favourite.

And it’s because the arrangements easily make up for what is lost: “No John Paul Jones? Don’t even sweat,” sings the string section with ballroom drama. “No John Bonham? No problem,” thunders the percussion, filling the ears with the sound of mad, charging Mamelouks.

It took this much to truly make a person forget that Bonzo died and Jonesy, criminally, never received a phone call to join the party.

The record also led Zeppelin’s yin and yang on different paths, locking Page into a vault that sends out Zeppelin remasters every few years but finally opening the door for Plant’s love of Moroccan and roots influences. All while throwing in an orchestra.

Because why the hell not?

And really-actually-sincerely: I love that logic. Led Zeppelin has never been about reason, it’s all instinct, baby and the instincts on an orchestra setting are so money my ears hear a ching-ching everytime this black circle, this CD, these MP3 files spin. The idea is bold, the effort is immense and the damn-near-flawless execution payouts big-time.

Give this album a spin, then once the black circle, CD, MP3 files stop, spin ’em again. This album ages well and adds as a fantastic Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin companion piece.

Grade: B+

Quick Impressions: Where there’s a will, there’s a way and where there’s a Plant, there’s a Page, two backing orchestras, Moroccan strings, tribal percussion, a hurdy-gurdy and a partridge in a pear tree. Formula for disaster? “No,” says the partridge, “listen to this and let it rock your shit.”

Producer: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant

Tracklist:

  1. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”
  2. “Thank You” (1994 issue)
  3. “No Quarter”
  4. “Friends”
  5. “Yallah” (“The Truth Explodes” on 2004 issue)
  6. “The Rain Song” (2004 issue)
  7. “City Don’t Cry”
  8. “Since I’ve Been Loving You”
  9. “The Battle of Evermore”
  10. “Wonderful One”
  11. “That’s the Way”
  12. “Wah Wah (2004 issue)
  13. “Gallows Pole”
  14. “Four Sticks”
  15. “Kashmir”