John Paul Jones - The Thunderthief
John Paul Jones was the last of the surviving Led Zeppelin line up to return to recording on a solo basis, finally doing so in the nineties, though he put in a number of appearances and contributions on other people's work in the intervening period and led a poorly received album in the eighties with a variety of other musicans. Indeed, he almost reverted to being the session musician he was before he joined Led Zeppelin. So much so that he disappeared off the rader and did not even get an invite to the induction of Led Zeppelin into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In many ways, Jones was the odd one out amongst the Led Zeppelin quartet. For a start, he was the most intellectual and probably the most talented, something which may seem an odd thing to say. He was also the quietest and most introspective. Yet given that he almost left the band in 1971 to take up the position of permanent of lead organist at Winchester Cathedral, he seemed to have broader musical horizons than the rest. While Bonham was heavily into booze, Page and Plant into whatever women they could get their hands on, Jones was the one who went to bed early and largely stayed away from excesses of various substances. Out of all of them, and this is saying something for a band which rarely gave interviews anyway, he was also to most reclusive of the four. At times, you almost wonder what he actually thought of the antics of his bandmates at the time and wondered whether he was really in the right line of work.
In terms of comparisons with Led Zeppelin, his solo work showed the much greater deviation from the hard rock, blues based style of music that Led Zeppelin excelled at in comparison with either Page or Plant. His solo work shows a variety of influences, not all of them easily discernable. Inevitably, the question is going to be raised about his solo career, was it worth the wait? Well The Thunderthief was his second output and came some four years after the first. Did it really take him that long to find the inspiration for this? Again, another question: is this the best he could do?
On the strength of this album, one would have to say that the long wait for Jones to come up with an album was definitely not worth it. The album is a mish-mash of different themes and styles. There is no unity to it and consequently it does not hang together well. Some of the tracks are just plain stupid - "Hoediddle" is a case in point. Others, such as "Angry Angry" contain a set of really childish lyrics over an equally childish melody, a modern nursery rhyme perhaps, with some really formulaic music behind it. Others seem to have no purpose other than to provide an opportunity for some slow songs, and here I am talking "Ice Fishing at Night". Furthermore, one final criticism, I don't know if it is John Paul Jones himself who is doing the vocals here, but if it is, he should stop! The lyrics are at times awful, and the vocals do not fit. The only thing I can really think of saying in its favour is that this must be a very personal album for Jones: the album He wanted to make, and to hell with what anyone else thought of it.
I got this without having heard it, thinking it would be interesting to hear what John Paul Jones sounded like without the rest of Led Zeppelin and nearly forty years on from his last solo effort, a single he released in the early sixties. At least on that effort, Jones did not sing for both "Baja" and "A Foggy Day in Vietnam" were instrumentals. The whole album lacks sufficient bass, in spite of Jones' awesome reputation as a bassist - was he trying to distance himself from his famous former life perhaps? It is not a patch on Zooma, his earlier album and suffers from some really weak songs. Now I know that John Paul Jones demonstrates his amazing musical ability on this album, and for that the album gets the rating which marks it above the truly awful, but really he ought to leave the singing and the songwriting to someone else.
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