Creem Magazine (Feb. 1972) review by Lester Bangs
This album has one of the more notable titles in pop history. Si Zentner or Ralph Marterie or somebody once released an album called "QX*%S$F!" or something approximate, and the Dead certainly scored with Aoxomoxoa. Why do these people think they have to pin such outlandish monikers on their product? Well, it's just a trend, to be cute, because nobody wants to be so unimaginative anymore as to name their albums after songs on them and yet Sticky Fingers and Love It To Death are the only recent albums to effectively utilize the Sgt. Pepper-Blonde On Blonde era trick of tying up the whole bag of tunes in a single clever phrase that serves as comment or concept. For a while the big thing was to name, say, your fourth album after your group since your first album had some cosmically verbose title anyhoo. Santana just pulled this one on their new set. Then people started calling their records snappy things like I, II, III, etc., but most of them are getting away from that because not as many people are going to buy an album called Chicago LXXVI. But Led Zeppelin really scooped the whole field with this one. What are people gonna call it? I've studiously avoided mentioning it by name in this review, although Dave Marsh suggested "Atlantic SD 7208" might be a good handle. Sometimes I actually believe that these bands think up these titles just to confound reviewers, magazines, trade-journal charts and the editors of the Schwann catalog. By punking out and calling the album by the group's name, we conceivably confuse it in the public mind with a first or other album by that name. The solution, in this case anyway, is that Atlantic has supplied the Icelandic runes of the title to all trade and public journals they're sending it to. But will Billboard and Record World and Cash Box take the trouble to run it? Probably not; but CREEM will! And that's the whole ball of wax.
And once you get past the runes to the tunes, what do you get? A Led Zeppelin album. It sounds pretty much like you'd expect it to, but there's nothing wrong with that; most of the biggest and best stars of rock 'n' roll history have found a relatively limited style and pursued it with minor changes. Led Zeppelin have taken the best aspects of the Yardbirds' style and the British flash blues tradition and inflated them into a mighty war machine that makes up in force and bigness of sound what it lacks in subtlety or variety. They've taken a lot of abuse from the rock press for this, being denigrated variously for "ripping off" black blues and sounding to more imaginative ears like the tonal equivalent of a 1933 Nuremberg rally. If they weren't so resolutely tasteless even in their attempts to be arty it might be different, but the Zep have stuck to their crass guns, and maintained their position as one of the most popular groups in the world and probably the secret kick of more than a few people with standards on their sleeves.
And it's true that Led Zeppelin II is one of the great psychedelic production albums of all time, a pop classic precisely by its excesses of form and proportion. "Whole Lotta Love" was the ultimate jive-ass macho masterpiece and ultimate phased headphone trip-out too even if largely lifted from a song on an old Small Faces album. The band's unsung propensity for dealing with mutated folk forms led to some mighty interesting and distinctly British lyrics about the depths of Mordor and the like, and in their third album to the beginning of an acoustic experiment that many called the ultimate bastardization but was no less justified than anybody else's version of "Gallows Pole". Besides, "Immigrant Song" was the first rock 'n' roll song ever about Vikings, and how much farther from the blues can you get?
Their new album, like the last, is nowhere near the skull-blitz that Led Zep II was, and doesn't even have as many songs as III. Which means that the songs tend to be longer, which means that they tend to turn into jams that sometimes bog down. There's more "pretty" folk-derived stuff too, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
Nevertheless, if, er, ah, uh, Atlantic SD 7208 is far from the best Zeppelin album, it still has immediate impact - as contrived as his approach is, Jimmy Page still thinks largely in terms cataclysmic - and I'm playing it more and more and louder and louder as I become familiar enough with the contents to distinguish the songs with strong similarities from each other and make out most of the lyrics from Robert Plant's singing, which is beginning to get as close to pure glottal-feedback garble as Iggy's ever was. I'm still not sure exactly what he's talking about in "Misty Mountain Hop", and the sense of strain in his vocal style from the beginning is becoming more apparent, but whattaya expect from a contortionist anyway? That constrictolaryngeal shrillness is part of his charm. And the song itself moves in such an odd rush, sounding jumbled but never quite pushing the rhythm off its precarious ledge, that you're always slightly disoriented enough not to look for parts so much as a sense of lunging, recoiling submergence. Same thing applies to "Black Dog", which is an absolutely typical slab of Led Zep blood-and-iron boogie thunder, and even more to "Rock and Roll", which is not nearly as brilliant but several thousand leukocytes thicker than Lou Reed's song of the same name, and features the rather self-deprecating lyrics: "It's been a long time since I rock and rolled/Been a long time since I did the Stroll". Nahh, if "Whole Lotta Love" wasn't rock 'n' roll this ain't either, and it sure ain't the Stroll, but it's surely guitarro hysteria of a thick textured blast akin to the Stooges' on Funhouse, and the surest single on this album.
Led Zeppelin are also getting deeper here into the folky stuff than ever before, and the results are uneven. "Going To California" is a lapping moderato bit that's as stereotypical in its intent "lyricism" and "beauty" as the other songs are in their frenzy, and bores the piss out of me, while "Stairway To Heaven" is a lapidary ballad with P*O*E*T*I*C lyrics ("And it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune/Then the piper will lead us to reason") that's as lush as a Kleenex forest. But in "Battle of Evermore" they apply acoustics in a brilliant way that's as surface-skittery as the power leads on "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Black Dog" and as internally unified. Plus Sandy Denny joining in with a beautifully arcing and swooping Grace Slickish vocal for one of the, yes, loveliest things (another is "That's The Way" on Zep III) the band has ever recorded. And they finish things off with the best summary wowser since "How Many More Times" on their first album and get in some blues licks too which are not only proper but actually listenable, actually exciting: "When The Levee Breaks" is a great, groaning, oozing piece of sheer program music, one of the best things ever done by this group, with some growling harmonica that hearkens straight back to the days of the Yardbirds, early Paul Butterfield and Manfred Mann's version of "Smokestack Lightning". Except that they had the sense not to drag theirs on for seven minutes; but then, the Zep seldom makes this mistake and when they do I'd much rather it'd be with a gorgon like "Levee" than a thicket of misbegotten mush like "Stairway To Heaven".
Led Zeppelin are not nearly as pretentious in their actual music as in its exterior accoutrements. At this point they can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, unless they should forsake their coagulated rave-ups to keep ascending them stairways to heaven until they're lost in the stars. They're stars already, but that's not why I don't expect any more from them then and am totally satisfied with the utterly predictable. It's because things as familiar as my own heartbeat often times are the quickest accelerators of heart's pulse and stomping feet. So don't pay any attention to the smartasses who tell you that this album's just Zo-So.
Edited by Silas Lang, 08 November 2011 - 01:56 AM.