The record industry is doing a good marketing job with CD reissues and vinyl. Promising not only better sound but long vaulted snippets and rough mixes from classic albums or groups, the goal of getting people to buy back catalogues from supergroups can be a lucrative revenue stream. Mp3, though still the most popular music format, is faulted for subpar dynamics by finicky music lovers (like yours truly). However, the reality is that most people simple don’t care about superior audio quality. The songs just have to sound “good enough” for most ears, and most people couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about High-Res audio, speakers that give good separation, tone, and balance. That’s for audio snobs who obsesses over sound mixes, EQ, warmth, brightness and low end.
For musicians, many of whom are audio snobs, putting out records that do have superior sound is something they really want fans of their work to hear. Sometimes reissues are a money-grab, sometimes they are revealing in an artist’s intent, and sometimes they are no different from either the original release or a previous reissue.
Led Zeppelin has been churning out reissues and remasters of their back catalogue for a couple of decades, so one has to wonder what’s left to hear? Jimmy Page has spearheaded the remaster project since 2014 for a couple of reasons. One is to get cash flowing back into his bank account. Two is to give fans a chance to hear “warmer” remastered versions of their albums and “clear the vault” of any rough mixes that have been, well, vaulted for years.
“In Through The Out Door” was the group’s last studio album, and it received very mixed reviews. If you want to read about the making of the record, you can HERE. Otherwise I won’t go into much backstory. What I will focus on is if the remastered deluxe edition is worth getting. The short answer is yes — but there’s a caveat. If you already have this record in various iterations, and are not a fan of the keyboard heavy songs that dominate the album, then don’t bother. If you’re a completist, then you need to add this to your collection. Disc 2 contains rough mixes for all seven songs on the album, and to me they are intriguing to hear. The opener, “In The Evening” is the most classic Zep-sounding song on the record. What the rough mix brings to the fore are a few things: one is Plant’s vocals, which are stripped of any studio trickery. You can more clearly hear what he’s singing. The others are that Page pushes the John Paul Jones’ bass farther up in the mix and pushes down the keyboard. Yes, it’s fundamentally the same song as it is on the album, but this mix makes it more of hard rocker in the Zep tradition.
“Southbound Piano” (aka “South Bound Saurez”) is lacking the “brightness” of what was on the record, but nothing much bubbles up that’s revelatory. The same goes for “Fool in the Rain.” The rough mix isn’t all that rough, but it does slightly punch up Page’s guitar work and Jones’ bass. However, the overall sound is fairly flat (lacking proper EQ), so it comes across as a “Hey guys, here’s the mix I think we should go with. We can fix the flatness when we master it” version. And yes, “Hot Dog” and “All of My Love” can also be lumped into the rough mixes of these songs.
“The Epic” (aka “Carouselembra”) is revelatory because the mix is fundamentally different from what’s on the album. Probably one of the most polarizing songs Zeppelin has recorded because of its use of a keening keyboard riff John Paul Jones came up with for Part I and the new wave/disco vibe to Part III. What Page did on the rough mix was to bring the drums, guitar and vocals more to the front of the mix and bury the keyboard and bass deeper down. There’s pluses and minuses to this mix. I like hearing the more guitar heavy version because I think the song rocks, and Plant’s vocals aren’t as obscured. Bonham’s drums are more present in the mix, but they lack that thunderous quality he’s known for. However, Jones really does some truly fine bass work in Part I, and it’s a shame we really can’t hear it.
“Blot” (aka “I’m Gonna Crawl”) is grittier on the rough mix. Plant’s vocals have that kind of hip-thrust/sexual quality he’s known for, and Page does a good job of making the song sound heavier by emphasizing his guitar work over Jones’ keyboard.
In the process of A-ing and B-ing the mixes, there’s a glossy sheen that got emphasized in the final versions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s fascinating to hear how some of these songs could have had more heft. Had the group voted on the beefier sound, it would be interesting to see if “In Through The Out Door” would have been as polarizing of an album as it was. For me, it’s one of my favorite Led Zeppelin records, mostly because when the album came out I was in a phase in my life where I was discovering music that I was claiming as my own. It was a gateway record for me to “go back” in listen to Zeppelin’s earlier work that hadn’t been played to death on FM radio. So, like I wrote at the outset, if you’re a completist and get a thrill out of hearing rough mixes, then by all means go out and buy the deluxe edition of “In Through The Out Door.” However, if your current copy is “good enough,” well…don’t bother.