Customer Reviews: Mothership
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on November 27, 2007
Over the past 7 or 8 years, record companies have adopted a way of thinking that basically boils down to louder = better. Many new albums have been ruined because they are "mastered" too loud. Rush's "Vapor Trails" is a great example of this.

For the non technical folks, mastering is the process by which a finished, mixed tape of an artist's song is then put through a series of refinements to make the sound a little more uniform for all listening situations. It is also at that stage that the "master" is created from which all copies are then produced.

In the early days of CD and digital sound, the process of converting analog sound to a digital signal was not as good as it is now. Also, coming out of the age of vinyl, where too loud a sound on vinyl could cause the needle to jump, CD's tended to be mastered about the same volume as vinyl. The CD is capable of volume levels that are louder than vinyl.

But, rather than use technology to create a better sounding product, the record companies took a perspective that louder = better = more sales. In other words, the louder the product is, the more people will notice it.

The problem for those of us who enjoy music is that by making CD's a whole lot louder, we are also losing dynamics and dimension. Music is by nature, supposed to have peaks of loudness. There needs to be contrast. A visual representation of what we should be hearing versus what we are getting out of newer CD's would be aptly demonstrated IF I BEGAN TYPING IN ALL CAPS. THERE IS NO CONTRAST BETWEEN LOUD AND soft.

So, with Led Zeppelin's "Mothership" we are now getting louder music at the expense of dynamics. Jimmy Page remastered the entire Zeppelin catalog in 1991 and did a great job of using the technology available at that time. Technology exists now that could expand and sweeten the work that Jimmy did, BUT NO - THE MATERIAL HAD TO BE MADE MUCH LOUDER in order to be more competitive in today's market.

Competitive with what? I don't know. It's Led Zeppelin for crying out loud!

I really wish Jimmy would have taken a more active role in this new remaster job. (Yes, it does say he produced the tracks. He did - years ago. Producing is completely different from mastering - check the 90's CDs where they additionally credit "remastering" to Jimmy Page and George Marino. Jimmy was not involved in the remastering this time around. It was done by John Davis)

Listen to "Trampled Underfoot" Listen to the Jimmy Page remaster from the early 90's and then the "Mothership" remaster. Notice how the swirling guitar at the end of the keyboard solo seems to fade up, up, UP in loudness on the Jimmy Page remaster (it was mixed that way in 1975). On The "Mothership" the fade up is less dramatic. THAT'S BECAUSE YOU LOSE THOSE DYNAMICS WHEN MUSIC IS MASTERED TOO LOUD. Notice how when Bonzo crashes in to his cymbals on "Mothership", the sound of the cymbals is breaking up. That's because the sound is so loud, even the CD can't reproduce it. That's called clipping, basically. That's where the peak is cut off because the signal is too loud. Imagine a mountain top just under a cloud. If you raise the mountain, you would lose sight of the peak in the cloud. That's a visual for what happens to sound.

To hear how truly incredible a CD can sound, check out "Love" by The Beatles, the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab version of Yes "Fragile", or the Tom Scholz remasters of "Boston" or "Don't Look Back".

Send Atlantic a message and avoid "Mothership". Tell them we are tired of having OUR MUSIC PRESENTED TO US LIKE THIS. By the way, the abomination that is Rush "Vapor Trails" just happens to be on...Atlantic.

D. Duran
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Music: 5 Stars; DVD: 5 Stars; Economic Value: 5 Stars; New Relevance: 1 Star

Almost 5 years ago to the day, the compilation "Early Days and Latter Days" was released, hence apparently bringing the 'ultimate' 2 CD "best of" Led Zeppelin on the market. A year after that, the ultimate live DVD compilation "Led Zeppelin" was released, to general acclaim. Fast forward to Fall 2007: Les Zeppelin has finally released its music digitally, plus "The Song Remains The Same" album and movie gets new life on upgraded releases, and oh yea, there is a one-off reunion concert coming up in early December in London. So how to 'celebrate' the occasion? Well, how about another "best of" release!

"Mothership" (2 CDs, 24 tracks, 140 min.) is a virtual copy of "Earlier Days and Latter Days": 20 of the 23 tracks from that appear on "Mothership", including all the staples, from "Whole Lotta Love" to "Black Dog" to Kashmir", and on and on. To mix is up just a little bit, "What Is and What Should Never Be", "The Battle of Evermore" and "Ten Years Gone" were dropped from "Early Days and Latter Days", and these 4 songs were added instead: "Ramble On", Heartbreaker", "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "D'Yer Mak'er". Too me those are minor changes on the fringes. It all sounds terrific, of course, due to yet more remastering from Jimmy Page.

As to the bonus DVD, there is nothing new here. This is a sampling/reduced version of the 2003 "Led Zeppelin" DVD: in order, there are 9 songs from the 1970 Royal Albert Hall show, 4 songs from the 1973 Madison Square Garden show that produced "The Song Remains the Same" movie, 3 songs from the 1975 Earl's Court show, and 4 songs from the 1979 Knebworth show. As such all performances are (and sound) pretty much terrific.

The bottom line is this: if you are new to Led Zeppelin, or if you are one of the remaining 13 people on this planet who after all this time do not have either the Led Zeppelin albums proper or the 2002 "Early Days and Later Days" compilation, by all means drop everything, and order this terrific and value-priced set immediately. For the rest of us, I fail to see the new relevance of this compilation, as there is not as much as a sniff of new music or DVD in this collection
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on November 13, 2007
A disclaimer for the 25 people who, before I rewrote this, had stated that it was helpful. They may not think the same of what they read here now.

I had originally written that "finally there is Zep on cd that sounds as musical as it deserves to sound! for anybody who has been dissatisfied by the digital representation of zep to the point that I have (the last remasterings sound so lousy to me that I can't enjoy them; so I've been listening to Zep on vinyl only) this collection will be a Godsend. For those who couldn't care less about sonics there is no reason to get this, as 'nothing is revealed'."
A 'hat in hand' update of this review posted after further listening on 11/30/2007:

Mothership sounded great to me at first but after reading other folks at Steve Hoffman forums all pointing to the 80's cds as being straight transfers from the analog, i had to check it out.

I realized i may have never heard the 80's version but because i never liked the 90's remasters (compared to my analog copies) i just assumed the 80's were worse - this also was based on prejudice from hating 80's cd's from many other catalogs (miles davis is a good example).
so this re-review stands as unrequired further proof that prejudice is bad and assuming makes a you-know-what out of you-know-who.

Yesterday I got an 80's copy of zep I and sat down with it and "mothership" - and after going back and forth again and again and again - I came to the same conclusion as those others had: the 80's cds sound better.

there are still digitally induced problems with the new versions though they remain vastly superior to the 90's masters to my ear.

So after my original proclamations of sonic bliss - I have to eat my hat (blech...).

I think a good mastering/manufacturing job now starting with the analog tapes as source (which mothership did not do) would surpass these 80's transfers easily due to so much ground being gained in 16 bit quality since then. a quick listen to the doors or creedence or 100 other bands' or orchestras' cds that have been remastered beautifully in the last 7 years or so will demonstrate the potential.

For now, in terms of these Led Zeppelin cds, if you can compare mothership to the 80's diament mastering.
Try this: turn up a diament cut til Plant's vocal is pretty loud. all will be well, I promise.
Now - swap it for mothership and turn up that same song til Plant is as loud as you just heard him on your 80's cd. I promise that your ears will hurt from the loudness/piercing quality of one instrument or another.

at low/careful volume the new masters reveal a lot of detail and appear to have great soundstage. this can be seductive, but there is an artificiality to some of the tonal shadings and the imaging if you compare directly to the vinyl or the diament 80's cds, along with the loudness and clipping problems.

this from a guy who was wowed by the new stuff until he:

1) listened to the classic vinyl again and 2) did the a/b thing with the diament.

ok. now I am done eating my hat (yuck...).

Still, if you have nothing to compare it to or have been living with the 90's remasters, mothership could rock your boat. I still enjoy it despite it's shortcomings, but not as much as the diament cds now that i've carefully visted them.

apologies to anyone led astray by my initial review.
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on November 14, 2007
Do not base your decision on whether to buy this album on whether you have the songs on some other album. The sound quality of the songs on Mothership is so much better than any other album of Zeppelin you may own that you should add this album to your collection. I don't know if it is the new technology available or if the band members spent more time on the remasters, but each song on Mothership sounds much better than what I have on their studio album versions or on their previous remastered collections. I feel bad for the reviewers who are not getting the CD because they have the songs in other forms. Those poor guys are thinking that the same old songs are just being burned to on a new CD. Their loss. I also feel bad for the people who just get the MP3 version of this album. You lose out on the improvement in sound quality if you don't get the actual CD of Mothership. You only buy Led Zeppelin because they sound great, so you should get the album that makes them sound the greatest.
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on November 13, 2007
All right then: I know many of you are already sharpening your knives to go for my jugular after seeing my rating, demanding blood for the act of heresy of "trashing" the greatest band in the history of the universe. So once again, I'm compelled to post a disclaimer about my rating and my review, just so I can be at peace with MYSELF and to be PERFECTLY clear about things (and yet, I KNOW there are STILL gonna be people who will send me the usual death threats...oh well). I'll try to do this as short, quick and painless as I can (I'm sure you all have better things to do than to read a lot of pseudo-intellectual babble...)...Like removing a band aid!

So here goes the disclaimer: I'm NOT a Zeppelin hater! I am NOT trashing the band! I am NOT trashing their music! Zeppelin rules! The band is awesome! The music is awesome! THIS compilation, however, is not. Yeah, I know all about their upcoming December one-off reunion gig, but even THAT fact does NOT justify this release.

As other reviewers have accurately pointed out (and I'm sure many others will continue to do so...), "Mothership" has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING more and/or new to offer for Zep fans. Actually, it offers less: less songs than "Remasters" and/or "Earlier Days/Latter Days". So what is the point of this, really? The DVD? Sorry, not worth the price of admission, especially if I CAN get it elsewhere separately. The remastering? Most people can't even tell the difference...die hards sure can, but the average listener can't...

Insult me and threaten me all you want, but ask yourselves this one, simple question: which true Zep fan DOESN'T already have all these songs?

I rest my case.

Peace to you all...
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on December 21, 2007
This package as a whole only warrants two stars in my book. I've had this music over the years on vinyl, cassettes, early CD's, and now the new CD's. The material is killer as all get out. The mastering is complete garbage.

As far as we have gone over the years improving sound quality from early muddy and murky sounding recordings to complete clarity, we've forgotten one thing. Ears don't lie. This set proves what Bob Ludwig and other the other greats of mastering have been telling us for years. Were in a loudness war, and now the music is suffering. If you don't understand this war, see here [...] . The basics of this theory (read reality) are that every single CD released by most major music corporations want their releases to sound bigger, and better than anything else on the radio. So, to do this mastering engineers over compress the mix, add distortion, anything they can do to make their clients (i.e. Major Labels) music stand out amongst the rest of the crap out there. Now you take this recording and play it on the radio so it can be over compressed again and there's nothing left at all for dynamic range. I listened to the first cut off this disc, and there it was. Over compressed, lifeless, and distorted Led Zeppelin music that I have loved for as long as I can remember, massacred for the next generation.

If they are going to continue with the loudness wars, how about making two different sets of masters. One for the Ipod set who could care less about sound quality, but are only concerned with filling up the 80Gb HD on them so they can listen to this stuff 24/7. And one for the music loving people who want to hear what the music is SUPPOSED TO SOUND LIKE.

A great example of why I don't bother wasting my time with music that has been released (with exceptions mind you) over the last 10 years. Agreed, if you want these classic tracks, buy the 80's versions of them and don't waste your time and money on this set.

The bottom line is if you want it to sound louder, just use your hand and turn up the volume knob. Quit making the rest of us suffer through this stuff.
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on November 21, 2007
This review is for anyone on the fence because they already own the remastered catalogue. Forget it! Those remasters don't hold even the tiniest candle to the soundstage present on this compilation. The soundstage is broad, its wide, spacious, incredible amounts and bottom end that is both warm and punchy. The subtleties of even these collected hard rockers are all now seeing the light of day. The amount of separation between the instrumental groups and the vocals is amazing. Finally, Zep's rhythm section gets its due and JPJ's bass lines don't sound like mud and the drums, wow, do they resonate with a power not heard in these recordings before. Basically, buy this set if the music means anything to you. Sure, its more of the same and the song list is missing some key items, BUT that all shrinks into complete insignificance when you sit and listen to the demonstration quality audio of this set. I hope that Page and Co. decide to give the rest of their catalogue the same treatment, because....well...Physical Graffiti, Houses of the Holy, III with this remastering would be completely new revelations.
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on November 26, 2007
Here come our old friends Led Zep again...hmmm, what could they possibly have now that I would want? Could it be new songs? Well, no. Maybe some newly discovered, thought lost forever tapes hidden away all these years in Jimmy Pages closet? No, again. WELL THEN WHAT COULD IT BE??? It's a greatest hits CD, of course!

Isn't it curious that new interest can be created from resurrecting an already well known catalog of tunes, repackaged with the promise of being something new and interesting, and resold yet again to an already adoring public. It can be done but only if the existing product can be improved upon, again. It's been my contention for years that Led Zeppelin has not been heard in the digital age the way they should be. The vindication of that fact can now found in this newly remastered release. The key here is the remastering. Slip on a pair of quality headphones, insert one of these CD's and settle back for what John Davis of Alchemy Mastering in London was able to do. My hat is off to Mr. Davis, he has taken what was digitized from some aged tapes circa the nineteen seventies, extracted all that is possible with current audio technology, and then for the grand finale mixed it all correctly. Hey, when you can clearly hear noises like drum hardware squeaking you get the feeling Davis pulled everything out of those geriatric tapes that is possible. Listen to the beginning of "Since I've Been Loving You" I believe it's Bonham's "Speed King" bass drum pedal that's the source of the now very audible squeaking. Although most of the selections are now clear as a bell be warned, as is true with many older analog recordings the source limitations sometimes are glaringly obvious. For example "The Immigrant Song" was apparently not a very good quality recording to begin with. You can tell Davis polished it up as much as he could but in my opinion it still suffers from a limited dynamic range and an abundance of tape hiss, listen at the very beginning as someone counts the song in and you'll hear the large amount of hiss until the band starts up. One must not be too picky though, after all that song was recorded, and I hate to say it, about 35 years ago. Anyway, the remastering was expertly handled and the end result is a clear winner. I think this is the best the public is going to get from those source recordings for a long time. Compare the sound quality on this CD compilation to the other Led Zeppelin CD's in your collection and I think you'll agree.
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on September 24, 2008
I hesitated for about 2 seconds before spending $60 on a 4-LP box set, but man was it worth it! The remastering quality is top rate - it's not like they just "cleaned up" the originals. Levels, channels and fades have all been reworked. I put on the record and played several tracks simultaneously to the 4-CD box set from 20 yrs ago (switching the input selector back and forth). It's like night and day, you wouldn't believe the improvement if you didn't hear it. Dazed and Confused is the perfect track for comparison with the huge dynamic range and monster drum riffs. The drum mix is the biggest improvement with the new master - they go from muddy and flat on the old CD mix to crisp and 3-dimensional on the new vinyl.

I'm listening through a high-end Rega Mira3 amp and Rega Apollo CD, Technics SL-1200MK2 TT with AT120 elliptical stylus and Paradigm Studio 20 loudspeakers.
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on November 12, 2007
You're looking at the newest and best Led Zeppelin hits compilation--Mothership--which includes 2 discs of music spanning the band's studio career, and one DVD of live footage culled from their self-titled DVD. There's no question about the quality of the material on these discs--every single song is a riff-laden classic, crackling with energy, and it's certainly a treat to see the band at the height of its live abilities. Considering that Led Zeppelin was a prime mover in popularizing album-oriented rock (as opposed to purely singles-oriented) in the late 60's and early 70's, cutting up some of the finest albums ever made and splicing together some of the transcendent moments onto two CDs seems to slightly contradict the spirit of the band's best music.

Who, ideally, is Mothership for? Well, if you're already a hardcore fan, you'll most likely already have all of Zeppelin's albums and all of this music, as well as the complete DVD set that this disc pulls from. Only the utter completists would want to add a totally redundant compilation to their collections. If you enjoy hearing Led Zeppelin on classic rock radio and are interested in actually owning some of their best songs in a compact, 1-case set, this may be a great choice--it's definitely more compact than the separately-sold Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 1 and Latter Days: Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol.2, and it offers the bonus of DVD video.

Honestly, though, if you see yourself ever being interested in Led Zeppelin beyond their token radio hits, I recommend steering clear of this compilation in favor of the actual albums. Yeah, it's great that Mothership includes the pounding energy of "Good Times Bad Times," the epic blues of "Dazed and Confused," the radio-ready metal "Immigrant Song," the playful eclecticism of "Ramble On," D'Yer Maker," and "Kashmir," as well as the obligatory grandeur of "Stairway to Heaven," but in the context of their original albums, these songs are even more hard-hitting, well-sequenced, and classic. Not only that, but Led Zeppelin's first five (arguably six) albums are nearly flawless in their songwriting and execution--if you skip out on the full albums in favor of Mothership, you'll also be missing out on all of the other great material that's arguably just as great as these 'greatest hits.'

Mothership is most definitely the best career-encompassing Led Zeppelin compilation available at present. If all you want are the hits in a tidy package, this is the place to get them. If you're interested in really experiencing what made Led Zeppelin the first of its breed and its members innovators in every sense of the word, the best way to understand, enjoy, and be thrilled into believing the claim that they're the best hard rock band of all time is to experience their albums as they were originally intended--after all, each one is practically a greatest hits package by itself! Last, if you're looking for a relatively career-spanning compilation that's not quite the same as you hear on the radio, don't miss How The West Was Won; it's their definitive live collection and a great way to hear a ton of their best songs as raw and epic live recordings.
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