Liquid Mercury: Jimmy Page’s Outrider at 35

The Zep guitarist’s sole solo album is still messy, still deeply flawed and still loads of fun 

Outrider promo poster (Image: Twitter)

Reviewing it in 1988, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke called Jimmy Page’s Outrider “a whole lotta muddle” and cited “utter lyric banality” and “hammy vocals.”

He awarded it a generous two stars. It’s an album that people love to hate. They also love to love it. It is truly a mixed bag that never quite comes together in the way that a Led Zeppelin album does or even the messy bag of half-tricks on those two albums from The Firm. Those of us who love it aren’t claiming that it’s nearly 40 minutes of sonic perfection. It’s sonic slop and the sloppier the better. 

Having set aside the aforementioned Firm after some modest commercial success and having briefly reunited with Robert Plant on Plant’s 1988 offering Now and Zen, Page did something he’s only done once: made a solo album. Released on June 19, 1988, the record had some hype to it. Maybe even superhype. His 1982 soundtrack to Death Wish II had shown promise that the riff master of ye olde LZ could ride again. 

Page hasn’t made much new music since Led Zeppelin died. Yes, he’s trodden the boards with the Black Crowes, made an album with David Coverdale and even reunited with Plant for a couple of stupefyingly good records, but he’s never really committed to a life of new music. For more than a decade now, we’ve read accounts of Page saying that he had “new music” coming “very soon,” only to later read announcements that he’d gone back over some project or other for his former band. Sad because Page proved on Outrider that he had some choice material in the tank, even if the recording sometimes (to some) says otherwise.

Jimmy Page Outrider, Geffen Records 1988

Dig: He recruited three vocalists for this nine-song set, only one of them known to American audiences in a broad way and that cat sings on one. The others are occupied by John Miles (incredible pipes and some real success across the pond) and Chris Farlowe (who should have, honestly, done the whole damn album). Along the way there are three instrumentals, some drumming from Jason Bonham and some heavy-as-hell bassing from Felix Krish. It is, alas, a keenly English album. 

The two Miles tracks are mostly sturm und drang as only ‘80s Page could sturm und drang. They bash and pow and promise something big (like the unveiling of a highly squeezable lemon) but deliver less than that. “Wasting My Time” does little more than that and “Wanna Make Love” might make you choose a life of celibacy. Unless you’re a deeply devoted Page fanatic (this writer is) and you can’t get enough of what he does with the dang guitar. He riffs so effortlessly, sturms and strums like a kid who has just gotten his hands on his first guitar and so what if you can’t remember a single line of the song (either one, really) by the time they’ve ground to a close? 

“Writes of Winter” is a beautiful movie for the mind and “Liquid Mercury” might make you just as crazy as a few drops of said substance dropped in your morning Joe. The Plant tune, “The Only One” is as forgettable as the rest and yet there’s something deeply satisfying of a whole side of an album that fails to live up to its promise. It’s just so terrifying to consider how all the parts didn’t come together and yet how they satisfy. 

Side two fares far better—a deeply moving cover of Leon Russell’s “Hummingbird” finds Farlowe in fine voice, the rhythm section of Durban Laverde and Bonham locking in just like the elder Bonham and John Paul Jones. If there’s one track that you must hear from the album, it’s probably this one. And what of the goofy jam “Prison Blues”? It’s seven minutes of glorious bruised rawk that was reportedly improvised on the spot. Krish handles the bass there and on the closing “Blues Anthem,” which would have been a hit had someone had the good sense to keep Farlowe as the sole singer on the album and made the whole record as soulful as this second side (even the instrumental “Emerald Eyes” sings in comparison to what passes for killer tunes on Side A). 


VIDEO: Jimmy Page “Wasting My Time”

None of this is Page’s fault. One smells that maybe there were record company compromises made and that maybe the maestro was reaching for further commercial success not unlike what he’d experienced a few years before. 

That’s all true and no one could have done it better, more lovingly than Page. Where’s the anniversary edition and the critical re-assessment?




Jedd Beaudoin

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Jedd Beaudoin

Jedd Beaudoin is a writer, educator and broadcaster based in Wichita, Kansas.

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