Jimmy Page will forever be known as the Creator of Led Zeppelin but his post-LZ projects of the 80s and 90s are ripe for a critical reassessment. There's a healthy quantity of music there: the Death Wish II soundtrack, an collaboration with Roy Harper, two albums from The Firm, the one Coverdale-Page recording, two Page and Plant albums, a live effort with The Black Crowes and of course his one true solo album -- 1988's Outrider.
It was released on label powerhouse Geffen Records with a major promotional push during the height of "hair metal." Pay no mind to the Motley Crues and Bon Jovis, the Guitar God was back and would reclaim his throne. The end result would be a very personal art project that left the public feeling a little cold. The three commercially-oriented singles would be the weakest tracks and stiff at radio.
David Fricke of Rolling Stone described it as "a whole lotta muddle, a bewildering amalgam of trademark Pagey rifferama, utter lyric banality, thundering instrumental tracks topped off by hammy vocals, tantalizing hints of steaming futurist Zeppelin and sudden U-turns back to the Seventies."
What Outrider made clear was that Page was from a bygone era and just didn't mesh with the 80s. The slavish Zep copying by clownish poofballs didn't even scratch the surface of JP's musical vision.
It was supposed to be a double album, but according to Page the original demos were stolen from his house (along with numerous Led Zeppelin soundboards that later popped up as bootlegs). Reborn as singele LP. has an "odds and ends" feel to it. Frankly, it's not a cohesive work in the slightest and that makes it all the more charming. Had anyone else submitted this to a major label it would have likely languished in limbo and never seen a release date.
Naturally, the two least interesting songs are what opens the album! "Wasting My Time" and "Wanna Make Love" hve some unconventional rhythm accents but may sound a little too close to Cinderella for comfort. Jason Bonham is on drums -- a fine drummer but with none of the Joe Morella/Buddy Rich swing his father possessed. John Miles was the vocalist, an unremarkable pro who had worked with Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, and Alan Parsons.
When it comes for the solo breaks, Page opts for skronky slide solos with slashing wah-wah effects. He had no interest in keeping current with "shred guitar" trends and made no pretense of being able to hang with the Malmsteens and Van Halens.
We get the first instrumental on the third song with "Writes Of Winter," which sounds like an extension of the Death Wish II soundtrack. There's some jazzy interludes at 1:25 and 2:36 but the attempts at McLaughlin-esque flights of fancy fall short.
"The Only One," the much heralded reunion track with Robert Plant, gets off to a great start with the purest guitar sound we've heard so far but just doesn't deliver the goods. Wearing And Tearing Part II if you will. Page referred to this album as "underproduced" but too often his guitar is buried in a harsh digital version of rockabilly slapback echo.
"Liquid Mercury," which closed Side 1 on the original vinyl is one of my favorite tracks.. A dropped-tuning riff with odd bars and a B-bender melody. Long a fan of the Parsons/White Stringbender in Telecasters (he used one on "Hot Dog"), Page had a B-bender installed in his Les Paul! Questionable taste, but he was all about B-bender solos in the 80s, even utilizing it in a guest solo on the Stones' "One Hit (To The Body)" from Dirty Work (1986).
Side two featured the overwrought white blooze of Chris Farlowe's vocals on three tracks. Not. A Fan. "Hummingbird" is Outrider's sole cover, a Leon Russell song. Stellar solo by Page as he deftly navigates the Em-C-Em-A-Em-F chord changes.
"Emerald Eyes" is the instant classic everyone was hoping for. Starting with an acoustic guitar in DADGAD tuning. The Jimmy Page "guitar army" rises once again. A B-bender melody interacts with the acoustic and a tremolo-out rhythm part. This is the simply one of the finest soongs Page has ever produced despite it's rougher demo-quality recording quality.
"Prison Blues" is the extended blues jam with unwelcome boasts from Farlow: "I'm gonna stick my weasal down that little hole." Hmm. But the solo is another blues masterclass by the Maestro. Check out the detuning bit he does at one point. This one could have been an instrumental.
"Blues Anthem" features more overblown singing but closes with another melodic B-bender solo.
Page toured behind Outrider for a little over two months in the fall of 1988. John Miles was the vocalist and tickets were sluggish in some markets forcing venue shifts from arena to theater. There would be some Zeppelin songs -- Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, Custard Pie and the requisite Stairway -- but there would just as many from The Firm, Death Wish II soundtrack and Outrider. It was a great representation of his career to date but it was ultimately the Zep tunes that the fans wanted to hear.
A promised followup to Outrider never materialized. Instead Geffen steered Page towards working with Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale. This would finally be the commercial hard rock opus they wanted all along. And the nadir of Jimmy Page's career.
Here's a the 10/28/88 show from the Outrider tour filmed in Uniondale, NY.