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Class C

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Art Rock, Folk Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Led Zeppelin fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Led Zeppelin fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Help me Lord! Drawing a deep breath, I set out on the treacherous path of reviewing the Zepsters. I'm really a little scared about it, what with them guys being really huge, huge, huge. By all accounts, they were the Beatles of the Seventies - no, they didn't have the Beatles' vibe, and the music didn't have anything to do with the Beatles at all, except for maybe a ballad or two, but on the social and commercial levels they certainly were the equivalent to the Fab Four. Not only did Led Zep symbolize the Seventies - they started the Seventies. Their first record, released in the fall of 1968, really and truly meant the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new one: hard, heavy, dark and depressing, on one side, bombastic, glamorous, showy and professional, on the other. The band primarily epitomized the hard rock/heavy metal genre, along with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and other such gentlemen; but wouldn't we be right in saying they were much more than an ordinary heavy metal band? They were a prog band, whose complex arrangements and mystical lyrics were able to compete with the creativity of such prog giants as Pink Floyd or Yes or King Crimson (and I don't even mention the spooky, goofy videos). They were a glam band, whose megatours, tons of effects and showing off, bizarre costumes, make-ups and behaviours were on the same level with, if not superior to, the workouts of David Bowie or Gary Glitter. They were a punk band, with the crunching chords of 'Rock And Roll' certainly imitating punkish nihilism. They were a folk rock band, with Jimmy Page being a big friend of the acoustic guitar and old ballads like 'Gallows Pole'. And yet - primarily they were Led Zeppelin: the dark, satanic, brutal monsters, capable of driving their spikes right through the most obscure depths of your mind and soul. 'Dark mystical sound' is what ninety nine percent of their songs sound like, with even the more cheerful and optimistic ones ('The Rain Song') sounding more like a prelude to a tragedy, a setting of the scene after which comes 'No Quarter'...

My attitude towards Led Zep? I give 'em a class status of C. I admit that it does seem a little strange after I'd called them the Beatles of the Seventies. But let me explain. I've never cared especially much 'bout the band just because they were a Seventies band. And, as is the usual problem with so many Seventies bands, they weren't a hell of an original band. The revolution they led was more about the mood and the attitude than about the music itself. They did invent a new style, I'll admit (but so have Genesis). Whenever they tried to step away from that style, though, it led to total artistic disaster, like on Houses Of The Holy. And milking the same cow on seven or eight albums just can't be that productive: once again, if you adore the style, you'll like nearly everything they ever put out. But if you just like their early albums for sounding fresh and independent, you'll be heavily disappointed in their later career. Maybe it was no slight coincidence that axeman Jimmy Page wasn't actually a newly-emerged Seventies star, like the whole prog rock generation. Instead, he was hanging around for the whole Sixties, doing almost nothing, and even his short stay in the Yardbirds didn't help his career that much. Sad, but true: he really had little songwriting talent, which, unfortunately, is not a rare thing among great guitarists (take Hendrix or Clapton for further proof). What he did real good was ripping off old bluesmen and folksmen and giving their songs a new dimension, applying clever production values and amazing guitar techniques. But let us save these discussions for the actual reviews...

Anyway, regardless of all my critiques, they were a good lil' band, and certainly thousands of times better than the swarms of braindead metal crap bands they unconsciously bred and inspired. This, unfortunately, is a bad point against them: being a good band, they were certainly a horrible influence. But I'm sure everybody will sort it out for themselves.

And a special note for the fans who are more than willing to flame me: please don't bother. The Led Zeppelin issue is one of the few issues where I'm not - and I mean NOT - budging an inch. I've had more than my fair share of Led Zep expertise over the years, and I've learned all about the reasons for which the band is so gruesomely overrated. (Several of these are stated above). There's no way they can score more than a C, and that's that. I'll post your flames, mind you, if they aren't particularly offensive, but they'll be completely useless - and yes, I'm well aware that there are at least a couple million loyal Zepheads out there ready to tear me to pieces. Well, better save your breath, gentlemen.

Lineup: Jimmy Page - guitar; Robert Plant - vocals; John Paul Jones - bass guitar; John Bonham - drums. The line-up evocates immediate connotations with The Who, of course, and indeed, Led Zep modelled their image very much akin to that of their predecessors: with a wild, frenzied guitarist, a mad drummer, a lion-maned, free-flowing vocalist and a quiet, but highly professional bass player. This isn't a good point: imitations are always cheaper than the originals. Little do I care about Robert Plant's prototype heavy metal falsetto vocals, or about John Bonham's vulgar drumming style (imagine a rednecky Keith Moon with twice as much vodka but twice as little charm and intelligence). And, although Page's guitar technique far outmatches Townshend's rudimentary soloing, his scenic image was never as convincing. J. P. Jones was a really cool fellow, though. And he played keyboards, too! And arranged strings (it was he who arranged strings on the Stones' 'She's A Rainbow', for one thing). Probably my favourite member of the band.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Heavy blues at its most uncompromised, sharp, bombastic, precise and hard-hitting. Wow!

Best song: YOU SHOOK ME

Track listing: 1) Good Times Bad Times; 2) Babe I'm Gonna Leave You; 3) You Shook Me; 4) Dazed And Confused; 5) Your Time Is Gonna Come; 6) Black Mountain Side; 7) Communication Breakdown; 8) I Can't Quit You Baby; 9) How Many More Times.

Along with King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, this is probably the only debut album by any band I'm familiar with that far surpasses anything the band would put out since. I know that fans usually prefer III or IV, and some fans don't even care much for this debut album at all, but they're all nuts.

Unlike the Beatles, Led Zeppelin committed a revolution in rock only once. Since then, all they were doing was securing its results. But the beginning, and the major breakthrough, can only be found here. The heaviest album up to that point (although certainly inspired a lot by Jeff Beck's Truth), it's also hard-hitting and precise, if you know what I mean. All of the band's good sides are there, and most of their bad sides haven't even yet begun to show through.

Let's see. Side one features the most fantastic, awesome sequence of three songs they ever managed to put together side by side. Although the album begins with the rather throwaway 'Good Times Bad Times', with a silly pop melody dressed in heavy chords, it's followed by the magnificent acoustic ballad 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You', an original and improvisatory rendition of some traditional ballad, where for the first time we have Plant introducing the 'human factor' that plagued his work ever since. What I actually mean is the way Plant sings most of his parts: stuttering, wavering, inserting lots of (quite often pointless) interjections, 'ah-ahs', 'oh-ohs' and suchlike. In just a couple of years this would become totally unbearable, with songs ruined and my personal patience abused, but here it works out just fine. The ballad might be their finest, with Robert finding the perfect compromise between hope and total despair of his personage. The gruff rhythmwork in the middle only accentuates it, and the acoustic guitars throughout are just marvelous. Strange enough, people usually quote III as the beginning of Page's passion for folk; in my opinion, 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' is much more effective than any of the 'folk' tunes on that album. And the coda, with Plant's last wailing 'I... said... that's when... it's calling me... baaack... hooooooooooooooooome...', and the plaintive little chord at the end, is stunning. Nowhere, on no other Led Zep song will you find such passion and care.

Heigh-ho! Next comes 'You Shook Me', a dazzling, head-spinning version of some undistinguished classic blues tune. Jeff Beck did it on his Truth album (with Rod Stewart on lead vocal), but you can see where it's most effective. The band sounds like an immaculate, totally perfected, stone-heavy (er, 'lead-heavy', to be exact) machine: Bonzo's thumping drumming and Jones's spooky, 'prolongated' bass lines set the pattern, while Plant demonstrates some of the most uncompromisedly raunchy singing (for 1968, at least), and Jimmy almost mocks him by imitating every single change in intonation on his guitar. The organ, harmonica and guitar solos are breath-taking just as well, and the song closes with well-constructed vocal/guitar battle that's sure to get you going. Again - never again would they achieve such a fantastic, meticulous level of perfection!

Without any breaks at all we segue into the classic 'Dazed And Confused', with some more examples of the band's early sharp, crystal clear and immaculate sound. I like it prolongated, like on live versions; but the original is brilliant as well, and, being the heaviest track on the album, it was probably the heaviest song of the Sixties. The lyrics are hogwash, but the melody is catchy, and the instrumentation is as good as can be. And, for those of you who like the hard groove, there's a furious fast part with Bonzo throwing in elephantic drum lines and Jimmy going like a madman. Moreover, it's the first (and next to last) example of the bowed guitar on a Led Zep album. The sound of bowed guitar on live versions is often unbearable (that's the only weak point with live versions), but here it's just weird. It's alright. Note, though, that all of the three mentioned compositions don't really have much to do with Led Zeppelin: even 'Dazed And Confused', although credited to Jimmy Page, was an old Yardbirds tune ripped off from some old blues number. So their main strength is the arrangement and the atmosphere they insert into the songs. Not the melodies.

Anyway, these three songs alone make the record such a terrific razzle-dazzle that I give it a 10 without much afterthought. None of the other songs even come close to this glorious triumvirate, but none of them are nasty, either. Even the closing 'How Many More Times', a rather pedestrian blues shuffle, goes down well, with more bowed guitar, Plant's wailings and a mad mid section. 'Communication Breakdown' is breaknecky, 'Black Mountain Side' is a gentle pretty acoustic easterny suite (more folk for you folks who rave about III), 'I Can't Quit You Baby' is yet another fine blues number, although certainly not as polished as the far superior 'You Shook Me', and 'Your Time Is Gonna Come' is an okay throwaway despite some mighty fine church organ playing by Jones in the beginning. All of these numbers are listenable, but they really add little to the masterpieces. Ne'er mind, though. If you're going for diversity (like me), this is not the band you're aiming at. But if you dig the style heartily, you're sure to rave and rant all over the LP/CD until you're nearly breathless. Just bear in mind: they never got any better than this, regardless of what all 'em critics say. They had songs which came close, but albums? All rip-offs of their first record. Let's move on!



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Plant is already obnoxious, and Page is already satanic, but there's still enough gas left. If you don't count all the rip-offs, of course.


Track listing: 1) Whole Lotta Love; 2) What Is And What Should Never Be; 3) The Lemon Song; 4) Thank You; 5) Heartbreaker; 6) Living Loving Maid; (She's Just A Woman); 7) Ramble On; 8) Moby Dick; 9) Bring It On Home.

Well, there you go. They took that 'Dazed And Confused' heavy vibe and milked it all through the album. It's so chock-full of riff-infested, dirty-sounding, heavy rockers that any sissy pop lover will get a headache halfway through. They're good, though. Gotta warn you, however, that some of the melodies, not to mention lyrics, are certainly stolen - in fact, Led Zep II probably holds the Zep record for uncredited rip-offs, as on all of the bluesy numbers on here they successfully nip something off their betters and as far as I remember, they were sued for both 'Whole Lotta Love' and 'The Lemon Song', but ultimately, who cares? At least most of the riffs were thought of by Page himself.

Thus, the opening 'Whole Lotta Love' is a dang classic about getting an orgasm in full speed (er, maybe you dudes can find other connotations. I can't at the moment), with quite a lot of these famous thingamajigs: the famous riff that practically embodies heavy metal, the famous solo, the famous wailing theramin passages, the famous orgasm-imitating part, the famous smutty lyrics, er, well, there's so much famous about the guys I think I need not discuss the song any more. It's been overplayed on the radio, of course (like ninety percent of Led Zep stuff), but I wouldn't know. I never listen to radio. Why do I have to depend on stupid programmers when I can determine my own choice? Damn the radio! (As you can see, my dislike of certain sides of Led Zep doesn't come from my overexposure to them. I don't hate 'The Song Remains The Same' because it's been overplayed. I just think it sucks, that's all).

Apart from that, you get your average misogynistic rocker with a riff that sounds incredibly dumb when you first hear it but later you find yourself so attracted to it it becomes really hard to get rid of it in your head ('Heartbreaker'); your average fast heavy rocker ('Living Loving Maid'); and your average slow heavy blues number - 'The Lemon Song', which is really a medley of old blues fragments... well, 'medley' is not the proper word here. Maybe 'pizza' would be better? Mind you, all of them are good! They're bouncy, catchy and exciting, even if they all have the same guitar tone. Yup.

The album even goes as far as to feature a magnificent ballad: 'What Is And What Should Never Be' is, in my humble opinion, one of the few pretentious ballads which they manage to pull off without sounding too, well, pretentious. By that time Plant got totally immersed in Tolkien lyrics, which for the most part ended up sounding like some bad fantasy writer's exercises in providing his faceless characters with poetic excourses ('Battle Of Evermore' is the climax, but it didn't stop at that). However, on 'What Is' the bad lyrics are fully compensated with a brilliant memory and a guitar solo of an exquisite gentleness never to be replicated again. The 'screaming' part is not as good, but it still holds out.

Unfortunately, the other four tracks kinda suck, and in a bad way at that. The other two ballads is the kind of faceless, nonsensical schlock the band would soon be putting out in loads: 'Thank You' is egotistic and fake, with lyrics that still make me fidget my feet in nervous distress ('Happiness, no more be sad/Happiness, I'm glad') and a melody fit for Mr Humperdinck; and 'Rambling On' just has no reason to exist in view of 'What Is...': it has a worse melody, worse lyrics, but shares the same mood and subject. Why? Curse me if I know. I can't stand the screaming either.

Bonham's solo spot 'Moby Dick' starts out fine, with yet another great heavy riff taken from yet another old bluesy tune whose origins can be found on BBC Sessions ('The Girl I Know She Got Long Black Wavy Hair', I think that was the name?), but then degenerates into a boring drum solo. I don't feel there was any serious need for drum solos after Ginger Baker's 'Toad' (whose structure 'Moby Dick' replicates minutely), which was, moreover, far superior technically; and Bonham vulgarizes his Keith Moon legacy, 'cause Moon never did drum solos. Of course, compared to the twelve minute version on The Song Remains The Same, this is still a great number.

Finally, the album finishes on a horrendous note: 'Bring It On Home' boasts a superb muddy production, with the band apparently trying to recreate some kind of old Delta record. To do so, they make Plant sing while holding his harmonica in his mouth (well, I couldn't say for sure, but sounds like it), and the effect is ridiculous: if you want to listen to some authentic Fourties blues, go and buy a Fourties record. Ew. What a great start and what a letdown in the end.

Nevertheless, I still give the record an 8 because I feel it deserves it. The obnoxiousness level is high, but the overbloated pretentiousness still isn't there, and the blues legacy still hasn't been completely forgotten, even if it sure is overabused, and Jimmy was still 'normal' at the time, without too much Crowley influence. For many, too, this is Led Zep's crowning moment, because as a transitional moment between the 'hardcore blues period' and the 'later mystical period' it manages to combine some of the elements of both and thus stands out as a defining statement in the whole metal movement. But unfortunately, the uncredited rip-offs, the dirty production, the obnoxious all-encompassing screaming and the ridiculous ballads, not to mention derivative drum solos, prevent me from rating it as high as the debut, even if you should definitely count me the last person to underestimate its historical importance.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Don't get me wrong: this is not the beginning of the end, this is just a lot of failed experimentation.


Track listing: 1) Immigrant Song; 2) Friends; 3) Celebration Day; 4) Since I've Been Loving You; 5) Out On The Tiles; 6) Gallows Pole; 7) Tangerine; 8) That's The Way; 9) Bron-Y-Aur Stomp; 10) Hats Off To (Roy) Harper.

Well, there you go again! Further on down the road, they took that 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' folk vibe and milked it all through the album. Which eventually resulted in an 'elite fan' favourite and in my personal disappointment. Page and Plant were probably getting bored of having to fight off old bluesmen lawsuits all the time - not that these lawsuits ever cured them of appropriating the songs' writing credits (I'm quite sure that fat old manager, Peter Grant, had quite a lot to do with the idea), but perhaps they spurred them on onto actually writing more material themselves: Led Zep III is clearly 'self-dominated' in that respect, with just a few blatant rip-offs like 'Hats Off To (Roy) Harper' or 'Since I've Been Loving You' sticking out. Unfortunately, that only makes the main problem stick out even more: these guys just didn't have the songwriting magic to make any of their more 'melodic' compositions true timeless classics. They write pretty acoustic melodies which are existent - I can't accuse 'Tangerine' or 'That's The Way' of being umelodic - but I can't bring myself to feeling the 'magic spice' in them. It is quite possible that the main stumbling-block is not even the playing or the production, but Plant's voice, that whiny pretentious cock-rocking intonation that he manages to bring even into the most sensitive of ballads. Whatever be, there is a stumbling-block here, it's just getting hard to distinguish it clearly, a stumbling-block which takes out the 'majestic mystical ballads' word combination out of my mouth and tends to replace it with 'boring folk crap'. In any case, I suppose even the most rabid Zep fans couldn't disagree with me in that nothing on here even comes close to the power and emotional force of 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You'.

For me, the album contains one absolute classic - the lengthy, slow, noodling blues 'Since I've Been Loving You', and need I tell you the melody is stolen as well (the classic Otis Rush song 'Double Trouble' is what comes on my mind immediately, but not being a great blues specialist, I'm sure there've been even closer sounding predecessors). Nevertheless, the little plaintive chord sequences in between verses are enough to redeem it completely. Just get Robert to sing instead of stuttering ('...working from seven, seven, seven to eleven eleven eleven...' - is this supposed to sound, ahem, realistic?) and you get yourself a tune worthy of Led Zep I. Hell, I even appreciate the powerful blues solo, despite the fact that it's the typical kind of soloing appropriated by Eighties' hair metal since then and rendered worthless and generic.

Unfortunately, the rest of the material ranges from merely good to merely passable to plain crappy. The only true heavy number on here is the radio hit 'Immigrant Song', a fast metal number with Sabbathy vocals and aggressive viking lyrics. The riff is good, fast and powerful, but the song itself inspired so many vomit-inducing metal rip-offs that I can't listen to it without visions of 80's hair metal coming to my mind - again! Listening to the songs on here really makes me wonder how come so many people think that Led Zeppelin is a unique band in that nobody ever tried, or could try, to replicate its sound. Fortunately, the song is just about two and a half minutes long (the very similar 'Achilles' Last Stand' takes up ten, for Chrissake!) Anyway, if you want a good viking song, 'No Quarter' should be your bet - that's one number with a real 'Norse' atmosphere.

The other rocker, 'Celebration Day', sounds so paranoid, it gets me all muddled and mixed up. It isn't a bad song, though, just not a classic: 'Communication Breakdown' made the point much more effectively. But I definitely like Page's style on that one, playing those flashy flurries of sound like he's never done before - the riff is perhaps one of the most complex in Zep's history, and one of the most unpredictable. And 'Out On The Tiles' is nothing but a generic, throwaway piece of boogie - leave that kind of crap to Aerosmith or Nazareth.

The rest of the album is almost completely acoustic or acoustic-based, and that's where the 'acquired taste' element comes in. Some dig all of these numbers, some select a few, some just disregard them. Me, I'm mixed-up - I've really grown to a stage where none of these numbers make me feel sick, except for, possibly, the failed experimentation of 'Friends'. It's not particuarly a rip-off of Cream's 'As You Said', because the melody is different, but it's based on the same principle: the interplay between acoustic guitars and specially distorted, 'ugly' violins (not to mention Plant's whining throughout). Sometimes I don't mind 'ugliness' in music, but this isn't any particular kind of ugliness. It's ugliness, that's all, and my ears can't stand it. And oh so many people in this world are fans of 'Gallows Pole', but hey, it's just a kind of 'neutral' folk song that catches your attention in dependance on secondary factors like arrangement, singing and suchlike. You'll like it if you like Plant's singing style. If it were sung by Dylan, I'd probably like it, too; as it is, it just goes on through me leaving no trace. Plant sings the rather realistic and pessimistic lyrics as if he was still singing about Gollum and 'the evil one'. Nadah.

The most difficult question is in evaluating the worthiness of 'That's The Way' and 'Tangerine', the two obviously better ballads on here. Like I said, I can't complain about the melodies, but something about the songs just rubs me against the wall. Very significantly at that, and I do suspect it has a lot to do with Mr Plant - I just don't see his voice as fit for all those ballads. But that's certainly not an objective statement; I'll probably have to agree with my opponents in that 'That's The Way' is a very worthy tune, while 'Tangerine' is still being otherwise marred by too much banal sentimentalism.

Another general complaint is that all of these songs showcase Page at his best on acoustic guitar; but all of them set the same mood and atmosphere of dark 'majesty', which makes the album seem severely monotonous. The melodies are often worthy, but they all carry us to the same goal: bow down before the dark majesties. And yeah, Plant's singing is getting more and more offensive (the ending of 'Gallows Pole', for instance, is simply untolerable). Even if you're a fan, you'll have to admit his unchanging vocal style can get on some persons' nerves now and then. It was all right first time around, but why do we have to go through it again and again and again?

Oh! What is certainly offensive about the record is the album closer 'Hats Off To (Roy) Harper'. What the real Roy Harper (a respectable blues/folk performer) has got to do with this song, I really don't know. Maybe he was invited to sing it, like Waters did for his 'Have A Cigar'? Come to think of it, maybe he'd have done good if he did. Because the song itself is a close replica of 'Bring It On Home', with the same affected vocals and muddy production. It's a blues, of course, but it's a bad one, maybe one of their worst efforts in that direction ever.

One good word in defense of the record, though - as much better as the following album would turn out to be, Led Zep III at least beats it with the 'intelligence' factor. On one hand, it has no obvious cock rock anthems like 'Black Dog'; on the other hand, it has the pseudo-mystical aspect of their career seriously toned down, with all the material being pretty realistic and no hobbit ditties around. It's still flashy and pretentious, of course, but I have to give the guys some credit for writing some decent lyrics and managing to present themselves as a thinking, rational, positive band rather than a bunch of drug-addled Aleicester Crowley disciples looking for fuckmeat.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The only thing that redeems this childishly mystique album is that some of the songs are real good.

Best song: you know, that little ditty about the escalator...

Track listing: 1) Black Dog; 2) Rock And Roll; 3) The Battle Of Evermore; 4) Stairway To Heaven; 5) Misty Mountain Hop; 6) Four Sticks; 7) Going To California; 8) When The Levee Breaks.

What can I possibly say about the record that hasn't been said before, as it's one of the most famous albums in rock history? Of course, it doesn't deserve its reputation which is for the most part due to 'Stairway To Heaven': the immense popularity of the song dragged the album along with it. It isn't a bad album, of course, and if there is any such thing as a 'great' Led Zeppelin album, this is probably their last one. Of course, it isn't even a Led Zeppelin album: see, there's just nothing on the cover to guarantee you it's Led Zeppelin. Ha! Ha! What proof do we have that these songs are actually played by the band itself? They forgot to put their names on it! I call the record IV since I like sequels, but in reality it can't be called at all. You have to say, 'oh, that one with no name, with the runes on the cover'. Actually, that's what most people do...

'Black Dog' opens the album on a high note: the tradition of breaking through with an uncompromised dirty rocker isn't broken. Of course, the intoxicating riff doesn't have anything to do with Jimmy Page, and the song construction reminds me of both Fleetwood Mac's 'Oh Well' and the Who's version of 'Young Man Blues', but, hell, maybe I'm asking for too much? Not everybody can be original. And the atmosphere of the song certainly doesn't have anything to do with the Who, not to mention Fleetwood Mac. It's just your average dark, offensive cock rock, with the band in top form. 'Rock And Roll' follows it with a Little Richard's 'Keep-A-Knockin'' drum intro rip-off and a sound that sure gets me going: if it weren't for 'Stairway', this would certainly be my pick for best song on here. Because nobody had ever done fast heavy boogie-woogie before, certainly not The Who or Jeff Beck. Believe it or not, but the more heavy classic rock and roll gets, the more exciting it is. The song's nostalgic lyrics aren't very appropriate, of course, but would you like to hear more of Plant's cockrocking? Guess not... Breathtaking! Whoopee!

Next comes one of the two songs I absolutely can't stand on the album. 'Battle Of Evermore' is probably the most pretentious they ever got, at least in this glorious early age. And you know I don't mind pretentiousness if it's deserved pretentiousness. But nothing saves the song: neither Page's mandolin strumming (was it a mandolin? I'm not too sure), nor Fairport Convention member Sandy Denny's backing vocals manage to score when it comes round to Plant's total and absolute ruining of what could have been a passable medieval-style ditty. 'The Queen of Light took her bow'? Robbie, I'm a big Tolkien fan as well, but I never humiliated myself to writing talentless, ridiculous rip-offs of his meticulously elaborated poetry. Gosh! And of course, the song is 'embellished' by multiple howlings, wailings and laments until you get the feeling of standing in the midst of a funeral ceremony. Sheez, people, if you're intelligent enough to distinguish genius from parody, stay away from this song. It's almost as bad as Uriah Heep-patented second-hand mysticism, and even worse.

Don't stay away from 'Stairway To Heaven', though. I mean, maybe it would've been better if it were an instrumental (just like Spirit's 'Taurus' which it was obviously ripped off from - well, maybe that's why they actually did add on the lyrics), 'cause Plant's biblical allusions tend to evade me, but at least he isn't obnoxious. Don't get me wrong: the song is gruesomely, terribly, incredibly overrated. I could easily name tons of songs that aren't any worse or are even better. The Who, for one thing, seem to hit the same mark with 'Pure And Easy', and do it in a much more effective way (although I'm not a great fan of its overbloated lyrics, either). The general fuss and craze are certainly hyped up, carried along with that long-haired, pot-smokin' Seventies spirit. But despite all this, the song is absolutely amazing, if only for the fact that it features Page's first (if not the last) successful creative fiddling around with the acoustic guitar: the melody is certainly his finest hour with the band. I still don't know whether the 'heavy' part of the song fits in right, though, although the solo is really really good. Unfortunately, this was the start of all generic heavy metal ballads; talkin' about bad influences again!

The next two songs I could easily live without. 'Misty Mountain Hop' too often ends up sounding like an Eastern mantra set to a heavy rhythm track ('wal-king in-the-park-jus'-the-o-ther-day-ba-by...', yech!). It's horrible, and the fact that it immediately follows 'Stairway' kinda brings us down on earth from heaven: yes, it's the same shitty band that did 'Immigrant Song' a year ago! Nah, just kidding. 'Immigrant Song' is quite tolerable. 'Hop', on the other hand, is their first totally disastrous heavy metal song. Bringing experimentation into hard rock? Stay away! 'Four Sticks' is listenable, but hardly much better, the best thing about it being Bonham's drumming (who uses four sticks, actually). Just a very bland and unmemorable song.

Luckily for us and for critics (I mean, it saves their reputations), the album finishes with a decent ballad ('Going To California', which starts as a charming folk song and becomes yet another Tolkien-raving at the end; fortunately, since the beginning is good, I'm not as troubled about the end) and a wall-rattling 'When The Levee Breaks' which has no original melody at all (c'mon, it's a blues), but has their most outstanding arrangement ever: the surprising, almost poisonously bashing drums, vicious slide guitars and electronically affected harmonicas make the picture bloody as hell. Hey! It's a concept album! The first side ends with a 'heavenly' ballad ('Stairway'), and the second side ends with an 'apocalyptic' blues. Hmm, never thought of it before. Oh, well, anyway, it's the band's songwriting peak. Nowhere near as impressive as the debut album, mainly because that one was genuine and youthfully enthusiastic, while this one is fake and commercially pretentious, but the songs themselves cannot be beat. If you're not a diehard, stop right here and go no further.



Year Of Release: 2003
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

I do realize earlier concerts don't have 'Stairway To Heaven' on them. But they should also have fewer baby baby babies.


Track listing: 1) LA Drone; 2) Immigrant Song; 3) Black Dog; 4) Over The Hills And Far Away; 5) Since I've Been Loving You; 6) Stairway To Heaven; 7) Going To California; 8) That's The Way; 9) Bron-Y-Aur Stomp; 10) Dazed And Confused; 11) What Is And What Should Never Be; 12) Dancing Days; 13) Moby Dick; 14) Whole Lotta Love; 15) Rock And Roll; 16) The Ocean; 17) Bring It On Home.

I don't feel extremely comfortable reviewing this particular album in this particular spot. Chronologically, this is Led Zep's third live album - following the much delayed Song Remains The Same soundtrack (1976, actually recorded in 1973) and the archive BBC Sessions from 1969-71 (reviews for both these albums see below). However, this is, as of this sunny day in July 2004, the earliest recorded Zep performance to have been officially released under the supervision of Jimmy Page himself, as opposed to the innumerable army of Zep boots, and since all of these performances were taken from two side-by-side LA shows respectively dating back to June 25th and June 27th, 1972, this is where the album certainly belongs in the discography.

Upon its release, How The West Was Won was predictably announced as Zep's greatest live album - considering that critical opinion has always held TSRTS in contempt. The BBC album fared much better upon release, but then, after all, it was a compilation, and didn't exactly let you recreate the true atmosphere of a true Zep show. And voila, here you have it: Led Zeppelin at their absolute creative peak (not my opinion, but since when does my opinion matter when it comes to Led Zeppelin? Hell, I might as well start opinionating on the tax policies of Sierra-Leone right now!), Led Zeppelin playing huge American arenas full of crazy guitar-hungry fans, Led Zeppelin in pristine audio quality with each individual member's talents shining right on through, Led Zeppelin providing you with 3 CDs worth of material, honestly reproducing the scope and length of an entire show, and plus you can have five hours of video material if you also buy the 2-DVD pack.

Manna from heaven, right? And this ain't Deep Purple, who have been peppering the market with releases of varying quality for decades now; this is Led Zeppelin, who treasure their reputation and wouldn't dare throwing out subpar material. How The West Was Won was supposed to be excellent, and even if some people could actually be somehow disappointed, they had to conceal the disappointment. Not that anybody was disappointed. Hell, I wasn't disappointed. It's a classy release.

Unfortunately, it only further confirms my suspicions: I don't really care THAT much for live Zeppelin in that they do not have a tendency to make their live material THAT much more impressive than their studio recordings. If you take the band's closest competition, such as the Who or the already mentioned Deep Purple, both of these bands have an advantage. The Who live simply sound nothing like the Who in the studio - you don't need to go further than Tommy to see that. Deep Purple live stick somewhat closer to the original, but their advantage is that they more or less sucked at production values - the rawer they are, the better it is, because all of their attempts to 'smooth out' their sound in the studio have backfired.

On the other hand, Led Zeppelin, mainly due to having two former "production aces" - Jimmy and J. P. Jones - in their midst, have always exceeded in the studio. Much of the thickness, darkness, creepy broodiness of the classic Zepster mystique simply gets lost when transferred to the stage. Certainly when playing a song like 'Black Dog', Jimmy's fingers move along the fretboard with much the same kind of agility and confidence they do in the studio; but somehow the end result is... well, just a savage blues-rock attack, not a vividly Freudian monster of a subconscious-exploring nerve-wrecking piece of art. (Especially when Jimmy suddenly raises the guitar pitch in the middle of the song - a 'Black Dog' that actually SQUEALS? Pathetic).

Another obvious minus - to me - is Plant's being at the top of his 'obnoxiousness' phase. You'll see that reappear on the other live albums as well, but... but... sing, goddammit, sing, don't clutter potentially awesome songs like 'Since I've Been Loving You' and 'Dazed And Confused' with superfluous stutterings, yelps, and gross hyper-exaggerations that would make any self-respecting Thespian crawl under the table. Is that guy suffering from an inferiority complex or what?

Another obvious minus is twenty minutes of 'Moby Dick'. But you saw that coming, didncha? Don't tell me you weren't ready for that! Well, at least now all of us can believe those fists could easily kick the shit out of a bunch of security guards in their time.

Now about the pluses. Pluses include... everything else. This is Led Zeppelin, goddammit, not Bad Company. 'Stairway To Heaven' absolutely rules in this performance: no mistakes, no imprecision, the 'do you remember laughter' line carelessly shoved in the background, and Page at his very, very best with the solo. The three-number acoustic set breathed new life in my love for 'Going To California' and rejuvenated my interest for 'That's The Way' and 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp'. Sadly, although they already were playing songs from the upcoming Houses Of The Holy, there's no live 'No Quarter' here - one spot where TSRTS certainly has an advantage over this thing - but there's no 'D'Yer Mak'er' either, and as for 'The Crunge', it is wisely, carefully, and humorously buried in the depths of the 'Dazed And Confused' medley, a move I appreciated.

Likewise, the 'Whole Lotta Love' medley is also priceless, with several old boogie and blues numbers making the list for the boys to have some pure fun with. You could, of course, accuse Jimmy of "going for the generic" out there - some of those numbers could have been played with similar effect by anybody at the time - but dedicated fans and blues lovers will always be interested to see his take on the pure, unadulterated forms of their kind of music, and besides, it's easier to tolerate a 'medley' than it is to simply tolerate a twenty-minute guitar jam, isn't it? (Not to offend Cream here, but hey, twenty-minute guitar jams are not the kind of thing for which I give Cream the edge over Zep anyway).

In short, it's more or less what I expected, a respectable primer of the Zep live sound around 1972, but not quite enough to push the BBC Sessions off the 'best live album' pedestal - and if my intuition serves me right, this moment could only arrive once the ex-Zepsters start brushing the dust off earlier shows, say, from the year 1969, for example. Going by Jimmy's current rate, though, I doubt if we'll ever actually get the chance. Not that I'm asking the market to be flooded with Zep archives, you understand. I'm having enough trouble with Deep Purple and the Grateful Dead already, so cut me some slack here. I do have a great new title for the next release, though:

How The East Was Won. Classic, isn't it?



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

The album that amply demonstrates all of the band's creative limitations. Some of it rules, though.

Best song: NO QUARTER

Track listing: 1) The Song Remains The Same; 2) The Rain Song; 3) Over The Hills And Far Away; 4) The Crunge; 5) Dancing Days; 6) D'Yer Mak'Er; 7) No Quarter; 8) The Ocean.

What the hell: Led Zeppelin trying to expand their musical boundaries? This ain't hard rock at all, I mean - AT ALL! Certainly the band's most diverse record, Houses captures the band in a rather strange, almost hilarious, groove; rumour has it that it originated at a particularly boozy period in the band's life, when they were just having a good time and playing everything that came into their head (rather like the Stones' Black And Blue). Whether this is a good or a bad thing, though, you'll just have to decide for yourselves. As for me, I consider the album a sure letdown in quality, and that's a pity, because it shows Jimmy Page could really go no further than heavy blues or dark acoustic ballads with any hint of success. Funk? Reggae? Doowop? Yeah, they're all here, but they really shouldn't.

Nevertheless, the album still has enough high points to guarantee it at least a 7. More exactly, its main advantage is featuring a breathtakingly well written and perfectly performed anthem that neatly summarizes all the good sides of their pretentious mysticism and manages to evade its bad sides. You must have guessed already. 'No Quarter' is the ultimate Led Zep song, certainly one of their best and for me - the last truly great song ever written by any member of the band. It's a slow, majestic and very realistic viking epic, whose sound is mostly due to an ingenious use of synthesizers by J. P. Jones; the sound he achieves fits in with the lyrics almost miraculously, recalling the severe, snowy, cold and vast panoramas of the North, with all those dragon-headed ships sailing, wow, forget that stupid 'Battle Of Evermore'. This might be the song Peter Gabriel lusted for in his Trespass period, but never found. Don't think that keyboards and lyrics are the only thing that make up the song, though: the growling guitar riff is one of Page's most complex and terrifying, not to mention majestic - for all my money, its stately majesty and power overshadows everything else Jimmy ever wrote. (The guitar solo bit, though, is not as inspiring as the marvelous solo on the Song Remains The Same live version, which is even better than the original). And it ain't blues! It's just a lengthy, moody piece of dark magic. The more I listen to it, the more I really believe in their genius...

...which, unfortunately, escapes me on much of the remaining material. As usual, one song, shattering as it might be, still isn't enough to make up a great album. And none of the other songs live up to the Scandinavian ditty. The good news first: 'The Rain Song' is a mighty fine ballad, with nice touches of orchestration, and Plant sounding more sentimental and somewhat more sincere than ever before, but it's nevertheless overlong for a song with such a languid, slowly dragging melody. 'Over The Hills And Far Away' is a pleasant enough rocker, too, in the classic style, merging intelligent acoustic shuffling with more familiar hard rock territory. But that's about it.

I know I'm gonna disappoint a lot of Led lovers, but the album opener, the number that gets the most airplay, yeah, 'The Song Remains The Same', I mean, has never done jack (or jill, for that matter) for me. It's just pointless. It's very complex, with Page certainly going for something different than just a simple blues riff and even turning into Steve Howe for a couple of seconds; but that's just the problem. The result is a very Yes-ish song, with Plant leading a gentle, but meaningless lyrics 'attack' against the gruff rhythm track, and I can't help but ask: why? The song ain't really dark, but it ain't bright either; it ain't sad, it ain't funny, and it doesn't even get me going 'cause it's too complex. It's boring, anyway. It also has no structure I'm aware of, although this ain't no point for you atmosphere lovers. Yuck.

And the experimentation? The messing around with the new and the unknown? Well, 'The Crunge' is just weird, with Plant sounding either like he's going mad or like he's imitating Leon Russell (maybe both). Funky, but hookless. You can dance to it, of course, but that ain't the only thing I require of Led Zep. As much as I hate the sneering comments of the "white boys doing black music" type (in ninety-nine percent of the cases, they are issued out by people who are simply not eclectic enough to appreciate different stylistics), I have to admit this is a perfect example: in this particular case, Plant spoils the entire picture with his obnoxious 'looping' vocalization. And the reggae number 'D'yer Maker' is funny, but sounds so completely and totally out of place among Zep songs that I can't help feeling nervous about Plant singing 'oh oh oh oh you don't have to go'. Come to think of it, both of these numbers aren't really offensive. It's just that these first experiments weren't followed by further innovations (on Physical Graffiti the band firmly returned to the basics of the first albums), and it's hard to perceive them as independent compositions, judging them by just their musical merits. Maybe if they were done by Mick Jagger, I'd have treated them less harshly...

Hey, I know what you must be a-thinkin'. You're a-thinkin': 'Okay, first he complains they weren't a diverse group, and when they finally got around to being diverse, he says it was a mistake. The guy's biased!' Not at all. If they experimented on Houses, what stopped them from experimenting further? Shucks. They were obviously caught in a spontanenous groove while recording the album, that's all. This spontaneity also results in the murky 'Dancing Days', with one of the most ear-hurting rhythm tracks they ever did. I hate this song and hope so do you. Don't you? And, as I've already mentioned everything but one song, I'll go ahead and say that 'The Ocean' doesn't impress me that much (does anybody else feel that the riff in the intro is an inferior re-write of Paul McCartney's 'Oo You'?), but the middle accappella part is pleasant. Okay, at least we must be thankful to the guys for finally putting a name on an album. Strange enough, the title track wasn't released on this one at all, but appeared on Graffiti two years later.

P.S. One last remark: 'The Crunge' sucks, but it also features Zep's only moment of genuine, brilliant humour, when after what seems like ages of endless 'vocal looping' Plant starts screaming out: 'I'm just looking for the bridge, has anybody seen the bridge?', and then somebody (Jimmy?) adds 'where's that confounded bridge' and they interrupt the song. Now here's a good snicker at unconventional song structure!



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Almost no bad songs on here, but some of the good songs aren't treated the right way...


Track listing: 1) Rock And Roll; 2) Celebration Day; 3) The Song Remains The Same; 4) The Rain Song; 5) Dazed And Confused; 6) No Quarter; 7) Stairway To Heaven; 8) Moby Dick; 9) Whole Lotta Love.

A soundtrack to a somewhat kinky movie featuring Led Zeppelin onstage and Led Zeppelin in their sick medieval fantasy sequences, this wasn't released until in 1976, already after the release of both Physical Graffiti and Presence, but this is where it belongs chronologically, because all of the material was filmed and recorded on the Houses Of The Holy tour. I hated the movie totally and uncompromisingly, but now I realize it was primarily because of the fantasy sequences (my God, these guys managed to combine utmost banality with childish horror games. Ehh. If, according to Cameron Crowe's liner notes, through these sequences we can really 'view the images in Page's mind during "Dazed And Confused"', I suppose I'd better set up my own images.) The live material is actually quite strong, although rumour has it that none of the band members ever liked their level of performing at the actually filmed shows. Whatever. The material is good.

What might put you off is that this is a double album with but nine tracks, most of them approaching or exceeding the ten-minute limit, and one going far beyond twenty minutes! Apparently, Led Zep were worthy disciples of Cream and worthy concurrents of Yes and Genesis. More the former, though, as the lengthy tunes are mostly filled to the brim with sparkling Page solos. If you didn't like these solos in the first place, you'll dance on the album; if you did enjoy the studio versions, but hate lengthy solofests in general, you'll listen to it once and shove it onto the racks. But if you, like me, respect Page the guitar man better than Page the dark songwriter, you'll be thrilled by a large part of what you'll hear.

The track selection draws heavily on Houses, certainly, plus evergreens like 'Stairway To Heaven', 'Rock And Roll', 'Dazed And Confused', 'Moby Dick' and 'Whole Lotta Love'. However, again in the Cream tradition, the songs don't sound at all similar to their studio originals. 'Rock And Roll' is raw, dripping with energy and distorted power chords a la Pete Townshend, and it could even surpass the original were it not for Plant's muddy vocals: not only isn't he in top form, he's also mixed very badly. But this is all rendered unimportant as long as you realize the great virtuosity of Page who is able to carry on the brontosauric riffage and add some pretty fine staccato solos on top of that. 'The Song Remains The Same' and 'Celebration Day' are unimpressive, although Page's guitarwork is again superb. But from then on, everything goes just fine: 'The Rain Song' manages to recreate the gentle 'orchestral' feel of the original, with J. P. Jones playing some masterful and moody Mellotron instead of the strings.

And then there's 'Dazed And Confused'... what can I say about this twenty seven minute long version of 'Dazed And Confused'? Well, the lengthy bowed guitar part makes me jump up in my chair as if it were a dentist's one, but apart from that, the tune's good, with Page ripping out all kinds of solos and even throwing in a line from 'If You're Going To San Francisco' for no special reason. Of course, no song deserves to be twenty-seven minutes long, but once you get used to it, you'll also get drawn in, sure as hell. The introduction section alone is well worth it: Jones' bassline is given the full potential of blossoming (and sending rows of uncontrolled shivers and small furry animals down your spine), while Page masterfully increases the tension by playing a chaotic, apocalyptic pattern. And then, after all, one mustn't forget the finger-flashing technique: 'Dazed And Confused' was the most self-indulgent Jimmy ever got, and this is one case of self-indulgency I can easily tolerate. (Trivia bit: did you know that 'Dazed And Confused' got thrown out of the setlist each time Page jammed his fingers? Which happened at least twice, if my memory serves me well).

And well, the second disc is pretty much flawless. 'No Quarter' is as good as the studio counterpart and maybe better; it's given a somewhat harder treatment, but that doesn't spoil it none, and this is also the only track on the album where Plant's vocals are really superb (the refrain was strangely muddled on the studio version). 'Stairway To Heaven' is okay, with a much lengthier and more climactic solo; 'Moby Dick' is horrible just like any twelve-minute drum solo would be, but there's nothing particularly offensive about it; and 'Whole Lotta Love' is breathtaking, with Page engaging in battle against the theramin and then suddenly turning the song into a frenetic boogie-woogie before returning back to the menacing riff for the closing part.

Truly, I don't know why some fans lament here, claiming this live album to be a letdown. Go listen to Who's Last for a letdown. Go listen to Live At Leeds for a 'best-of' live album. This one is just normal: flawed, but listenable. In fact, strange as it might seem, this is the Led Zep album I listen to most of all, just because it substitutes a greatest hits collection for me. The rare case of a Led Zep album with no bad songs at all ('cept the title track, of course). In fact, the only major complaints I can skedaddle out of myself is the sound quality (the mix is often poor - particularly on the first several songs) and Plant's vocals, which are getting super-obnoxious. The man feels a necessity to adlib anything, and anywhere, and sometimes he gets so carried away he starts adlibbing even in those spots where he's actually supposed to, you know, like, sing. Otherwise, there's no reason to detest the album. That said, The BBC Sessions are still a better bet for your first live Led Zep experience in almost every respect - except that there's no 'No Quarter' on 'em.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A double album of cock rock and flatfoot heavy metal? I'll pass, thank you.

Best song: IN MY TIME OF DYING (but only a little part of it!)

Track listing: 1) Custard Pie; 2) The Rover; 3) In My Time Of Dying; 4) Houses Of The Holy; 5) Trampled Under Foot; 6) Kashmir; 7) In The Light; 8) Bron-Y-Aur; 9) Down By The Seaside; 10) Ten Years Gone; 11) Night Flight; 12) The Wanton Song; 13) Boogie With Stu; 14) Black Country Woman; 15) Sick Again.

Some consider this the pinnacle of Zeppelinism - a double album that sends to hell all these funk/reggae tendences of Houses in favour of Page/Plant's more traditional hallmarks: heavy riffs and devilish screaming abound on this record, Bonham pounds as if his life depends on the effort he puts in his drums, and Jones mostly sticks to bass if you don't count an occasional organ solo now and then (which, by the way, he used to do since the very beginning). Everybody's in top form, in short. But in the end, maybe it's just that fact that makes the record unlistenable to a large extent. Now I'm not willing to lower this record in the eyes of the fans: everybody who worships Page more than Budda will get his load of kicks from this record. But for me, who likes Led Zeppelin just like 'one more great Seventies band', this is a real pain in the neck, I mean, c'mon people, how can you really sit through the entire record?

That said, Physical Graffiti has always been a critical favourite, and one of the trendiest things to do is to include it in numerous 'Top 100' or even 'Top 10' rock records of the last four thousand years (which, by the way, is an occupation comparable to defining the 'Top 10 Writers of the Western Hemisphere', i.e. fun, but with a zero percent intellectual value.) It's easy to see why: it's a double album, it has a wide range of styles, and it sounds acceptable. Double albums have always suffered that fate - when released by a notorious artist, they were either complete failures, or else they were halfway decent, in which case the critics raved up and proclaimed them 'encyclopaedic masterpieces'. Such is the case with the Stones' Exile On Main Street; absolutely the same case is with Physical Graffiti. Except that Led Zeppelin were a less talented band than the Stones (ah, come on all you fans and throttle me - I'm ready for that!), so, naturally, Physical Graffiti is an even worse album. Encyclopaedic it may be, but it is also regressive, limited in its superficially 'wide' scope, and, yeah, right, boring. To some extent.

First of all, I'm not at all satisfied with the way they begin to sound from now on. In my humble opinion, Graffiti initiates the 'late Zeppelin' period when their hard rock (aka heavy metal) songs suddenly lost all traces of freshness and began sounding totally generic. Maybe it's the low production value that's responsible (although I couldn't accuse Jimmy of not paying attention to production). Maybe it's because of the overall 'jamming' atmosphere of the album: most of the songs sound raw and totally unpolished. But most probably it's because Jimmy overabuses distortion and power chords, sounding from time to time like a bad parody on Pete Townshend. Maybe there's some other kind of reason. But when I hear 'Custard Pie', the by now familiar cock rocker that opens the album, I just can't help saying: yup, the magic is gone. This is just your average heavy metal band that thinks of itself as sitting on top of the world while in fact what it does is rehashing the elder classic standards with all the diligency expected from a piece of used carbon paper. The witty Mark Prindle once remarked that some of these songs sound more like Grand Funk Railroad than Led Zeppelin, and to me, that's definitely not a compliment - GFR are one of the most conservative and unimaginative hard rock bands to have ever existed. And the mighty Led Zep, once the kings of scary, jerky tension, have now degenerated to Mark Farner level? Come on now! And I'm not even mentioning their age!

Not that it ain't really enjoyable, this 'Custard Pie': it's a good piece of heavy boogie, and you can play air guitar and sing along and tap your foot and do everything. But what the heck - it doesn't even have the power of 'Black Dog'! It has the crunch, but it doesn't have the angst and it doesn't have the menace of that song - 'Custard Pie' is nothing to scare your parents with. More examples of the same include the ridiculous closing number 'Sick Again' with its hideous jam at the end; and even the more or less classic 'Wanton Song' that could have been inserted into 'Custard Pie' without anyone noticing the substitution, since the riffs are nearly identical (not that Page is plagiarizing himself for the first time, but never before was it so obvious). Decent songs, all of them, but not even a little bit better than the contemporary efforts of Aerosmith or AC/DC or whoever. Or Grand Funk, yeah. The Led Zep chemistry that made the early albums so groovy, even if they were still patchy, is gone - almost entirely.

Of course, not all is lost, because on certain other numbers Jimmy tries steering the band into different directions and introducing new gimmicks to the sound - I'm ready to admit that. In doing so, he produces two of the weirdest tracks the band ever did. 'In My Time Of Dying' opens with a terrific slide guitar melody, and when Plant comes in with his lyrics it seems for a couple of moments that they almost succeed in recreating the fascinating guitar/vocals battle of old, especially on the oddly-sung line ' I can die eaaaa-a-a-asy...' And 'Kashmir', with its famous Eastern-tinged melody, is deservedly a fan favourite. Are these violins that play throughout the song, or synthesizers? I'm not too sure, but that majestic ascending line is really something. On the other hand, not even good ideas can save Jimmy from fuckin' up - 'In My Time Of Dying' exceeds all limits of decency by turning into a stupid jam just after four minutes and refusing to shut up for what seems like ages (moreover, at the very end some voice says 'this is gonna be a long ending', did they reprise it once again?), and 'Kashmir' soon turns out to be just a background setting for that violin line; it certainly does not deserve to be more than eight minutes long. And did I mention such laughable monsters as 'Ten Years Gone' or 'In The Light'? The first one easily defines 'filler', as the riff it is based upon is moderately good, but nothing is ever done to properly unveil the song's potential - too soft and feeble for a rocker, but too cold and restrained for a ballad. What the hell? And 'In The Light'... okay, I give: the intro to the song is moody and effective, with J. P. Jones drawing on a mighty fine and scary 'kozmik' synth line. The rest I could easily live without.

Did I mention 'The Rover' yet? Sounds nice until you realize that its most 'emotional' parts are almost directly copied from the 'heavier' parts of 'Stairway To Heaven', with that descending riff near the solo section.

Other 'novelty' moments include outtakes from earlier albums, such as the blatantly-pop-disguised-as-heavy-rock 'Houses Of The Holy', or the pretty short acoustic instrumental 'Bron-Y-Aur' (not to be confounded with 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp'!!). There's a funny boogie-woogie piano shuffle with Ian Stewart, the 'sixth Rolling Stone', at the piano ('Boogie With Stu'), and a totally out of place country rocker ('Black Country Woman'). But these are more or less tiny curious islands amidst a sea of pedestrian heavy riffage and mind-boggling jamming. Track after track goes on and on and on, until you're really beginning to wonder if these guys planned a double album simply because of lack of dough. And mind you, I said I really don't dislike Page's solos by pumping up the rating of The Song Remains The Same. But the fact is, he's not really soloing: most of the time, he just delivers crunchy guitar lines that don't suit his classic style at all. Compare Jimmy the guitarist in 1968 and Jimmy the guitarist in 1975 and you'll see that he's vilified his own techniques. Even worse, the kind of sound he developed on here serves mostly to mask the lack of truly creative musical ideas. The album really looks like an anthemic chef-d'aeuvre on the outside, but upon opening the nut one can easily ascertain that it's almost hollow. Isn't it? Sure is!

I originally gave it a 6, but it has grown on me enough to guarantee a relatively high seven, just because I'm rarely offended by those songs from this album that do not exceed six minutes (plus, I have finally gotten the point of 'Trampled Underfoot', which is indeed one of the band's best attempts at a high-volume, high-energy funk rocker). Still, I wouldn't want to spend the rest of my life listening to 'Down By The Seaside' or 'The Wanton Song'. I just see no point, thanks.



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

A single album of cock rock and flatfoot heavy metal? Together with 'Physical Graffiti', that makes a triple horror.


Track listing: 1) Achilles' Last Stand; 2) For Your Life; 3) Royal Orleans; 4) Nobody's Fault But Mine; 5) Candy Store Rock; 6) Hots On For Nowhere; 7) Tea For One.

Time has altered my opinion of this album - only slightly, but altered it. Initially I was convinced that there was only one more or less good song here; now I'm convinced that there are at least three 'decent' creations here. However, time has also worsened my position towards the bad stuff on here: where it's bad, it's horrendous, close to unlistenable or way beyond it. The worst offender in the Zeppelin catalog, this is one album that should have never happened, and given the conditions in which it was written, it really had a chance of not being released - and yet it was.

Unfortunately, these very conditions are not the true reason behind the album's murky, faceless image. Yes, that was a bad time for Led Zep: tax exiles, Page's heroin addiction, Bonham's alcoholism, and above all, Plant's broken legs and the ghost of the eternal wheelchair did threaten the band's existence. Unlike the Stones, Led Zeppelin never really did get a kick out of poor circumstances - they tended to work better under excellent conditions. Okay, so maybe the very fact that they started recording at that period saved the group from disbanding, helping it to limp along for four more years. But the end product wasn't satisfactory at all, and did suggest that perhaps disbanding would have been a better alternative at the time.

So what is this end product? Simply put, it suffers from the inevitable change of attitude that already began during the recording of Physical Graffiti. Any of these songs could have easily fitted on that album, because the style is the same. Generic heavy metal chords; abuse of power chords; primitive, stupid guitar riffs; booming drumming; Plant's wailings and screaming - nothing has changed since last year. It only got worse. The 1968-73 years, whatever my criticism of this period might have been, were spent under the sign of experimentalism and innovation; Physical Graffiti cemented the Zep legacy together - not in the best way possible, but tolerable; Presence is just an inferior take on some of the PG themes, a morose and mostly melody-less collection of inferior metal tunes that has absolutely no reason to exist, and is justifiably loathed even by a large proportion of Led Zep fans.

Sure enough, just like Graffiti had its fair share of good songs, so does this album. The opener, 'Achilles' Last Stand' (that should have been 'Atlantes' but was changed at the last minute for obscure 'well-sounding' reasons; so much for a scientific approach to art), is a massive tour de force, and probably Zep's last fairly successful stab at an epic song. Overlong as it may be, it still has that fantasti-wasti riff that has Page escaping from the routine of heavy metal guitar punching for the last time: the song is as far from vomit-inducing cock rock as you'd thought they would never get again. If you ask me, it is fairly reminiscent of 'The Song Remains The Same' (same type of lead guitar/rhythm section interplay), but better, adding a certain amount of pessimistic depth and - more importantly - a tolerable and even enjoyable lead vocal from Robbie.

'Nobody's Fault But Mine', on the other hand, is mostly saved by Plant: the song deals with heroin addiction and is probably Page's confession (his analog of Lennon's 'Cold Turkey', except that Jimmy certainly had much more direct experience). Robert truly does a good singing job on this one, recreating the pain and above all the confusion ('n-n-n-no-no-no-nobody's fault but mine' he sings), while Jimmy hammers out some more of these weird, 'poisonous' guitar tones he'd exploited so well in the first section of 'In My Time Of Dying' on the previous album. And finally, the album closer, the slow blues 'Tea For One' is an inferior, but still slightly different rewrite of the classic 'Since I've Been Loving You': the lyrics are more sophisticated, but the effect is more or less the same, only withought the delightful, sorrowful guitar lines of the former. It's okay - if you dig slow heavy blues, and 'Since I've Been Loving You' in particular, you'll like it. Just be sure to play it in the middle of the night.

Don't hold your head up high, though. We dealt with the better ones; now comes the time to whip the naughty. There are four more songs here, amounting to a full side of material, and they're as bad as a pile of canine droppings, if not worse. Four more lame parodies on classic heavy boogie-woogie. What happened, I repeat, what happened to the skill of old when they could pull off 'Communication Breakdown' and 'Rock'n'Roll' and get away with it? 'Royal Orleans' and 'Candy Store Rock' are the worst offenders of the lot: they're not funny, they're not angry, they're just a bunch of crude, dorky, distorted riffs that could have easily done by any average heavy metal band at the time. Of course, if you're into heavy metal, this one's for you. If you like your Led Zep for creating intelligent, moving, penetrating music, don't even think about putting it on. 'For Your Life' is little better: generally speaking, it's just a clumsy mess, like the second part of 'In My Time Of Dying'. And 'Hots On For Nowhere' is just hots on for nowhere. The band is trying to get funky again, like they did on some of the previous records, but Led Zeppelin simply can't play good funk - this requires more than just one guitar holding down the rhythm, and it also requires getting rid of Mr Plant, who sounds even more self-parodic on these numbers than usual.

A sad thing, how the once mighty have fallen. Yet totally predictable - the band's limitations were always seen from the very start, and once they'd exhausted the restricted amount of innovative ideas they once shared, there was nothing left to do but to keep on pumping out this muck. They didn't even have the strength nor the will to experiment - a thing that saved the contemporary careers of other 'dinosaurs' such as the Stones or the Who. They just kept redoing the same record like trying to squeeze out the last possible drops of the same overused tea bag. Stay away from it if you value your life.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Weird swan song, and even though it doesn't sound a bit like the 1975-76 albums, it's not much of an improvement.

Best song: I'M GONNA CRAWL

Track listing: 1) In The Evening; 2) South Bound Saurez; 3) Fool In The Rain; 4) Hot Dog; 5) Carouselambra; 6) All My Love; 7) I'm Gonna Crawl.

Here's ample proof that both Page and Plant were creatively exhausted by the time. Most of the songs here are either written by J. P. Jones or at least sound as if he was the most interested person in the studio. However, don't expect 'No Quarter'! Jones had certainly soaked up some current keyboard pop and New Wave influences, and apart from the retro 'Hot Dog', all of these songs sound quite 'contemporary'. Unfortunately, Jones' enthusiasm was far, far insufficient to make the record truly exciting. Anyway, how could it be exciting? Plant was still lamenting over the untimely death of his son, Jimmy was still only half-cured of heroin addiction, and Bonzo was half-dying of alcoholism. Kinda like the Who in 1978, but while the Who were still being pulled through by Townshend's songwriting, there was no Townshend to help salvage this record.

The overall sound is murky, draggy and tired. Bonzo drums with maybe only about a third of his former potential, this being probably the only record where he could just as well be replaced by an average session player without anybody noticing. Jimmy is hard to notice at all behind the keyboards: either his drug affair had messed up his hands or he was just tired of guitar heroics, so he mostly sticks to simple, unremarkable riffs and generic, not very exciting solos (with one exception on which see below). Oh well, at least there's no banal metal melodies, at least. And Plant's voice is but a shadow of his former self. Maybe I get this feeling because of the horrible mix, but apart from a couple brilliant workouts, like on 'I'm Gonna Crawl', I just don't notice him at all. The good side is that I don't notice the 'oh-ohs' and 'ah-ahs' either.

The actual songs aren't crappy, but for the most part they don't work all that well: slow-paced, mid-tempo 'rockers' that, as usual, go on and on and on without anything to lift their heads up from the ground which they mostly stick to. The worst offender is the ten-minute 'Carouselambra' which is practically impossible to listen to in one sitting without being distracted by a million things outside the window. And what's with that horrible disco part at the end? Did Led Zeppelin really plan to become a disco band in the near future? Well, it's a good thing they disbanded a year later then... Once upon a time, this was a band that relied on subtle dynamics, unexpected melody and tempo changes, climactic guitar outbursts: 'Carouselambra' simply crawls on like a large, overproduced monster where the actual melody - even if it were present - is stiffened to death by overproduction.

Want to hear a prescription for an average ITTOD song? Lift off any of the longer tracks from Physical Graffiti. Eliminate or at least muffle down all the guitar solos. Add a synthesizer background that keeps replaying a boring sequence of a handful of chords for ten minutes. Gag Plant and put Bonzo on the drums in the midst of a heart attack. And there you go - why, 'In The Evening' is just that kind of clone (off of 'In The Light', of course). It drags on and on, without an inch of power they once had, and it would be pure hypocrisy to try and find anything that redeems this number. Or 'Fool In The Rain'? C'mon, 'Fool In The Rain' is a good song? It's a power pop monster! And by 'monster', I don't mean 'successful experiment at tackling yet another genre in the vast range of Zeppelin's tangibles'. I mean, 'super-weak, ridiculous track based on an inane, repetitive, dinky groove that couldn't sound clumsier if Jimmy Page played all the instruments by himself under his pillow'. And I think I already said all I think about 'Carouselambra'.

The record is salvaged partially by four tracks, although none of them sound like Led Zeppelin either. 'South Bound Saurez' is another of those dumb 'plain rockers' that used to offend me so deep on Presence, but somehow Plant manages not to be too obnoxious and J.P. plays some really good piano fills that make the number passable. 'Hot Dog' is a cheerful three minute country-western groove that's the only happy song on the whole album and so would sound much better in the context of Houses Of The Holy. 'All Of My Love' (probably the best known song off the album) is decent synth pop, and it's at least motivated (it's dedicated to the death of Plant's son, so Robbie really sounds moving on it; however, I'm not sure as to whether the mid-80's Elton John-style synth solo really pleases the average Led Zep fan).

The best song, however, and the only one which I'd put on the Led Zep 'golden' list, is the closing 'I'm Gonna Crawl': a desperate love ballad where, for one single glorious moment, the synth backing, the economic guitar licks and the emotional singing combine in that glorious alchemy that made Led Zep so entrancing in the first place. Even Jimmy delivers the only truly engaging guitar solo on the whole record. Funny how the song reminds me of 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' from the debut record in its desperation and plea. Could we say that the circle has closed? I guess we can...

You know, somehow I feel that even if Bonzo hadn't died within a year after the album's release, it would still be the band's last one. The death of Bonzo wasn't a tragic incident that cut apart the fortune of a glorious rock band in its prime. It was just a suitable excuse (no offense, John) for ending a band that really didn't want to drag on and was only happy to be dissolved. Had they continued, they would have become a miserable parody on themselves, like the Who and the Stones in the Eighties. In Through The Out Door already began that process. And of course I don't mind bands moving away from their trademark formula if the formula in question got so stale, but the thing is, they need to pick a good direction. And synth-pop was certainly not a very good direction for Led Zeppelin. This record isn't awful, like I once thought, but it's really a good thing that it was their last one.



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6

Seriously, this is just a collection of crappy outtakes that depicts Led Zep as a banal cock rock band. Which they were - sometimes, but not always.


Track listing: 1) We're Gonna Groove; 2) Poor Tom; 3) I Can't Quit You Baby; 4) Walter's Walk; 5) Ozone Baby; 6) Darlene; 7) Bonzo's Montreux; 8) Wearing And Tearing.

Either Jimmy was out of money or nostalgia was grabbing him by the throat, but truth is: it's hard to imagine an album that could shatter Led Zeppelin's reputation more than Coda. What's interesting is that a large number of these outtakes date from a relatively early period in the band's career, before their slump into the vulgarized power metal style. And yet, most of these songs are totally, unlimitedly, un-com-pro-mi-sing-ly unlistenable, at least for me. Lovers of generic heavy metal will dig it, but not me. There are exactly three songs on here that I would rank as 'trying to approach 'decent''. The cover of B. B. King's 'We're Gonna Groove' ranks along with their more moderate Graffiti product like 'Custard Pie': fast but not melody-less, and bluesy which is a bonus. While one might get tired of the overall bluesy style of their first albums, on PG and Presence I simply can't wait to hear a blues like 'Tea For One' or 'In My Time Of Dying' because it always elevates the playing. This one's good, too, but an incredibly deceptive beginning for an album.

Then there's a strange countryish ditty called 'Poor Tom' which, although credited to Page - Plant, is an obvious rip-off from some obscure 'classic' song; what it does painfully remind me of is the Stones' cover of 'Prodigal Son', only augmented by a full-blown rhythm section. The mix is bad (BTW, the mix is mostly bad throughout the album), but if you're diligent enough you just might like it. At least, in this context it's OK. It's easily understandable, too, why it never could fit into any of the 'regular' albums: while there is indeed a 'minor' atmosphere on the song, it's nowhere near as overblown as some of their acoustic balladeering ('Thank You', for instance), and it's nowhere near as gloomy as some of their other acoustic balladeering ('Gallows Pole', anyone?). This is why I find it particularly delicious.

Finally, the third track that is somewhat interesting to me is the instrumental 'Bonzo's Montreux', a mostly drum-driven boogie that could be called an extended drum solo, but in reality it isn't: it's just Bonzo banging away a complicated rhythm track on a battery of doomed drums. Or, well, maybe it is a drum solo, but in that case I always loved drum solos that are rhythmic and constitute a real solid groove (like Ron Bushy's solo on 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'), and this one's one of the best in the genre. It sounds absolutely mind-blowing, what with all the force he puts into his blows (the coda is especially shattering), and it's probably the best requiem they could put on record for him. One complaint, though: why couldn't they record a track like this instead of the stupid drum solo on 'Moby Dick'?

This is, however, where the scarce praisings end and the garbage dissection comes in. For me, it was hard to imagine anything worse than the songs they put on Presence; boy, was I ever mistaken. In fact, 'Wearing And Tearing' is a worthy candidate for Worst Song in my more than 500-CD catalogue. 'Ya know, ya know, ya know, ya know...' Ya know what? If I heard a song like this played by KISS or Poison or Cinderella or Twisted Sister, I'd probably just turn off the radio/TV and walk away without much afterthought. But hearing this lifeless, gross, profanized piece of noise-making played by Led Zeppelin, a band which I like and generally respect in spite of all the critique on this site, it's really a pain in my heart. Actually, it's not even heavy metal, it sounds more like very poorly executed hardcore punk - and that's not even music.

Of course, none of the other songs can hope to be as bad as that (I ditched the rating one special point for that horror), but that's small consolation. 'Ozone Baby' is a ridiculous fast-tempo ballad with strong punk connotations (bad punk connotations) again, and 'Darlene' looks like a Houses Of The Holy outtake cuz it sounds as most everything on that album: in a different style from their usual one. They attempt to record something like 'heavy dance music' on that one, but they fail because these two things don't fit in properly, not to mention that Plant sounds especially self-parodic. Sometimes it seems to me (don't laugh) he's trying to pull a Captain Beefheart, with similar hoarse vocalization; but it takes a lot of brawn to match the vocal skills of Mr Van Vliet. The hookless rocker 'Walter's Walk' is just as forgettable (it reminds me of all those weak cock-rock numbers on Physical Graffiti), and the live rendition of 'I Can't Quit You Baby' (why that one?? why not 'Stairway To Heaven' at least?) has long since been superated by the better versions on the BBC Sessions.

In all, my reaction is a total yuck. I understand that in 1982, when the album was released, it was certainly acceptable when judged by any lesser bands standards. But in retrospect it almost looks like a dead dog's droppings: if you played me 'Wearing And Tearing' without my knowing the author, I'd never even suggest Led Zeppelin; I like the band too much for even being able to suggest such an atrocious thing. Why Jimmy allowed the band's reputation to be flopped and flapped around in such a miserable way is beyond me, and I'm pretty sure they still have loads of better material in the vaults. Or maybe I'm wrong? Maybe speaking of 'loads of better material' is more like prattling about goblin gold? Well, anyway, like I said: better dream of goblin gold than sniff a dead dog's droppings.



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

An amazingly good live selection that's gonna please even the casual fan.

Best song: YOU SHOOK ME?

Track listing: CD I: 1) You Shook Me; 2) I Can't Quit You Baby; 3) Communication Breakdown; 4) Dazed And Confused; 5) The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair; 6) What Is And What Should Never Be; 7) Communication Breakdown; 8) Travelling Riverside Blues; 9) Whole Lotta Love; 10) Somethin' Else; 11) Communication Breakdown; 12) I Can't Quit You Baby; 13) You Shook Me; 14) How Many More Times;

CD II: 1) Immigrant Song; 2) Heartbreaker; 3) Since I've Been Loving You; 4) Black Dog; 5) Dazed And Confused; 6) Stairway To Heaven; 7) Going To California; 8) That's The Way; 9) Whole Lotta Love (Medley); 10) Thank You.

Lord bless the BBC! For years now they've been putting out these cute little compilations, and they all range from amusing to great. This one's one of the most recent, devoted to unveiling before us the grandiose live powers of what was formerly known as 'the ultimate hard rock band'. Needless to say, this is a must for everybody with even a passing interest in Led Zep. Whatever complaints I may hold towards separate original albums, there's little to complain about as for what regards this package. The songs are all from the early years - they don't go any further than IV, and so much the better (even though I would dearly love to see a live version of 'No Quarter' here as well). The one major flaw is that several of the songs are repeated in two, sometimes even three versions - personally, I don't see why I should patiently tolerate three similar takes on 'Communication Breakdown' (even if, strictly speaking, they're all fabulous) or two nearly similar takes on 'I Can't Quit You Baby' (even if, frankly speaking, they're just as fabulous - brilliant use of pauses!). This makes me ditch a point - sorry, guys, even if there was nothing else interesting left, you'd have done better to eliminate some of these versions. After all, nobody asks you to increase the running time to seventy plus minutes if there's nothing substantial to increase it with. However, some of the doublets do seem motivated - there is, for instance, an early version of 'Dazed And Confused' and a later version of the same, so that one can compare the original tight, relatively short hard rock number with the grandiose twenty-minute metal symphony it evolved into later. So the problem is not really as serious as one could have supposed.

But never mind the problems! Why don't we enjoy the good sides instead? From the early days, there are two kick-ass versions of 'You Shook Me' the first one of which comes close to surpassing the original in what concerns the level of 'hardness' and sparkling energy - if this dates from the band's first recording sessions on the BBC, I really suppose Jimmy made a solemn vow to make a non-forgettable introduction of the band to the radio-loving public. There are also some interesting blues numbers you won't find on any other official release, like the riff-fest 'The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair' whose main riff later got re-worked (that's another synonym for 'stolen', of course) into 'Moby Dick', or the fast, jammy 'Travelling Riverside Blues'. The playing is nearly always exceptional, except that Plant often gets as obnoxious as ever, with endless wailings and insertions of the line 'squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg' in every possible place - whenever the line could be expected or whenever it couldn't. But I guess that is no big surprise for those who are at least vaguely familiar with Mr Robert's style, and the true fans should concentrate on Mr Page anyway, because Mr Page obviously liked the BBC studio environment.

Apart from that, on the first disc you also get your 'How Many More Times' (good, but a little bit too long) and 'What Is And What Should Never Be' (cool! The guys on the BBC have guessed my taste! They knew exactly how to please me! To think they could have put on 'Rambling On' instead!)

So, if you don't count the excessive live versions of 'I Can't Quit You Baby' (one should be enough) and 'Communication Breakdown' (one should be too much), the first disc is totally glorious. The second one does have a couple misfires, though. First, what the heck is 'Thank You' doing on here as the closing song? That's one of the lamest ballads they ever did! Anyway, I don't care much - it being the last song, I can simply stop the CD earlier than needed. Second, why choose such an unsatisfying version of 'Since I've Been Loving You'? Mind you, I loved the song on III, but the performance on this disc is simply sloppy - Plant doesn't bother to sing at all, and Jimmy doesn't seem to notice that Plant doesn't sing and instead of compensating it with great guitarwork, gets loose himself. I wonder if they were drunk in the recording studio or what? Yuck! And finally, I never liked 'That's The Way'. But, the rest is a totally different matter: 'Dazed And Confused' and 'Whole Lotta Love' (this time going into a medley of old blues numbers and coming out again) are as polished as ever, 'Stairway To Heaven' is actually better than the live version on Song Remains The Same, and the generic cock rock just does what it is supposed to do - get you in a groove and make you forget all your troubles ('Black Dog', 'Heartbreaker').

So, simply beautiful. Indeed, I heartily recommend this album as the place to start with Led Zep - forget all these hit packages, they're just for navel-gazing jerks! Real music lovers should only get hit packages after getting all the original albums, I say! Instead, invest your hard-earned pay into this little 2-CD package and witness the world's greatest heavy metal band (yup, you heard right; the world's greatest hard rock band is The Who) at their very, very, very best, before they just turned into a hit-making hair metal machine. Long live the BBC! Especially since officially released live Led Zep stuff is so hard to come by - which is a shame, because judging by the vast amounts of bootlegs out there, a lot of Led Zep facets really turn out to be missed. God only knows what they used to perform live in those lengthy medleys - all kinds of rock'n'roll, blues, country, whatever, even Beatles covers, I guess. By the way, if you listen closely to the first version of 'Whole Lotta Love', you'll hear Plant do a little tidbit from 'Mystery Train' on the 'orgasmic' part. Pay attention next time!



Led Zeppelin parted ways pretty soon for a rock band - and naturally, had long and prolific solo careers which, frankly speaking, haven't been that inspiring. Where Page and Plant had their individual flaws often muffled by each other, on their own these flaws stood up loud and proud. Still, it would be really unbelievable if a band of such high stature should only release crappy solo stuff, and true enough, the solo records do contain some gems from time to time; plus, the recent "Page & Plant" albums have been as close to a Led Zeppelin reunion as possible and are well worth investigating if only for that matter. So let's get on with it.


(released by: ROBERT PLANT)

Year Of Release: 1982
Overall rating = 9

Murky production + no good songwriting ideas + Kashmir Kashmir Kashmir. Funny? You bet.


Track listing: 1) Burning Down One Side; 2) Moonlight In Samosa; 3) Pledge Pin; 4) Slow Dancer; 5) Worse Than Detroit; 6) Fat Lip; 7) Like I Never Been Before; 8) Mystery Title.

Essentially one of the most boring things that happens to me in my average boring life is putting on records put out in the Eighties by Seventies' hard rock bands. For some reason, no Seventies' heavy band I'm aware of at the moment really survived the epoch change in a nice way. Nobody began to rock harder; nobody continued to rock just as hard. Instead, the classic traditional guitar-heavy energetic sound was replaced by wuffly-muffly synth-happy diluted borefests that all sounded 'profound' and 'mature', but lacked entertainment value so severely it makes me wanna cry. Fans who were following these bands all their lives and grew up with them were probably happy. But those who weren't in the game from the start... oh man, that's really hard to swallow, you know.

Pictures At Eleven is a classic example. It's Robbie Plant's first powerful statement in his solo career, and it could be worse, but man oh man could it ever be better. First, the goodies: without Page, Plant is still able to get on. He enlists talented guitarist Robbie Blunt (no, I didn't make it up, but maybe Plant did? Mr Plant and Mr Blunt?) who's no speed technician like Page but who sure can play a mean riff from time to time and... whatever, any Eighties hard rock guitarist who was able not to sound in that generic Eighties way (aka 'bi-i-i-i-i-i-ig generator' style, as every Yes fan would tell you) deserves some acclaim. Second, Robbie (Plant, not Blunt) is in full vocal force and not only that, he actually sounds better than on many late period Zep records seeing as how he mostly manages to avoid the endless frustrating ad libs and baby-babying. Third, everyone and his grandmother will tell you that Plant was 'going for a Zeppelinish sound' on here, but I frankly don't hear it. Oh sure, I do hear a lot of individual Zeppelinisms in the songs and yeah, most of them would probably have easily fit in on any post-Houses Zep record given the proper Page treatment.

BUT... I really don't feel that Pictures At Eleven had been consciously written to satisfy the crowd's lust for more product that looked like Zeppelin. In other words, Plant was simply following his own vision rather than going for a commercial matter of attraction. Most probably he thought that the record would sell anyway, on the strength of his name alone - and he wasn't actually mistaken, as the album reached #2 on the British charts. But funnily enough, the album has very little commercial potential, which is why there were no hit singles. Perhaps the closest to a 'catchy tune' on here, and the only song that truly 'rocks' in the conformist sense of the word, is the closing funk-rocker 'Mystery Title', with a classy riff, a good drive, a high blast of energy, and an overlong running time. Think a variation on 'Trampled Underfoot' or something like that.

The rest of the album is hard to describe. Despite all the advantages listed above, the album DOES suffer from Eighties' excesses. All of the seven tracks really blend into each other, all of them overproduced, instruments and overdubs bulging out from beyond each other. There's an atmosphere here - atmosphere similar to that of 'Kashmir', with Eastern influences, an overall solemn and majestic mood, all based on unnnerving mid-tempo rhythm work. But there's one disadvantage - Plant is a minimal composer, and his pals and colleagues like Robbie Blunt are no better. Instead of penning really memorable melodies, Robert REALLY goes for mood and atmosphere, and this results in painful unlistenable horrors like the eight-minute 'Slow Dancer' which goes absolutely nowhere and does absolutely nothing beyond overstating the "look at me I'm so serious look at me I'm so Mr-Been-There-Know-It-All now" notion. It's funny to note, by the way, that the tune borrows a lot from Rainbow showcases like 'Stargazer', and coincidentally, Cozy Powell plays drums on that track (the rest of the drum parts are handled by Phil Collins, strange enough).

I actually can't disprove that notion. The album boasts surprisingly good lyrics, for instance - devoted to personal relations, for the most part, but Plant has really gone a long way from 'Battle Of Evermore' and even 'Stairway To Heaven'. The mood actually works if you want it. It's the main melodies I can't memorize even from my deathbed, be it the slower blooze of 'Like I Never Been Before', the straightforward rock of 'Worse Than Detroit' or the artsy philosophical pattern of 'Burning Down One Side'. And even when there is a nice riff to underpin the song ('Pledge Pin'), it is very often drowned out in unnecessary overdubs ('Pledge Pin' even has a sax solo!) and almost always lacks vocal hooks of any character. Granted, Plant has never been the hookman - Page always took that honour. But Blunt is no Page, and a couple vocal hooks could have helped, instead, I'm just having to follow Robert's ravings in a pretty 'dazed and confused' way. Still, I betcha anything this one's a particular favourite among Robert's fans, so what do I know?



(released by: ROBERT PLANT)

Year Of Release: 1983
Overall rating = 8

Moooooooooooooooooooore of the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame...

Best song: IN THE MOOD

Track listing: 1) Other Arms; 2) In The Mood; 3) Messin' With The Meckon; 4) Wreckless Love; 5) Thru' With The Two Step; 6) Horizontal Departure; 7) Stranger Here... Than Over There; 8) Big Log.

If the last album was mood music, then this one is triple and quadruple mood music. Maybe that's why the only song on it that I really like is called 'In The Mood'! It's an innocent little danceable shuffle with well-placed funk bass and somewhat unannoying synth backgrounds. Of course, Robert lies through his teeth when he chants 'I'm in the mood for melody, I'm in the mood for melody', because we all know "Robert Plant" and "melody" stand at two different ends of the cognoscentia spectrum, but let's just assume he's chanting 'I'm in the mood' and everything falls back in the proper place. Right away! I really like the way he sounds on this track, and Blunt's little guitar arpeggios in the instrumental section are quite tasteful as well.

But really, the song's an exception. Most of the rest is just the same - endless murky sticky drones which are probably intended to suppress your psyche, and they do, but not because it's all so deep and emotionally rich, rather because it's so badly executed. Come now, the biggest song on here was 'Big Log'. Does it even have anything like a melody? It's typical Eighties adult pop, moody and a little dark, with drum machines, soft guitars that say nothing, heavenly synth backgrounds and vocals that could care less about whether they're hook-oriented or not. Of course, when Robert Plant uses his most majestic sounding tone to begin a song with the glorious line 'My love is in league with the freeway!', that's supposed to rule, right? That's coolness epitomized, isn't it? Let's see how I can top this, hmm... 'My love has a way with angels!' 'My love does not care about flowing!' 'My love lays its rules with a blessing!' 'My love is in touch with the North wind!' See? Now go ahead and tell me who of us is more poetically gifted. Oh, okay, I admit that according to these rules, it is possible to mock every single line ever written by anybody, but fact is, if there's anything that catches your attention on 'Big Log', it's this pompous start, and that's totally ready-dick-ulous.

Out of the rockers, the only two that somehow manage to stand out (half an inch each, no more) are 'Other Arms' and, I think, yeah, it's the one called 'Horizontal Departure'. 'Other Arms' has a bunch of gritty metallic descending riffs in between the verses, and the 'lay down your arms!' call that Plant howls out from time to time until it becomes repetitive ad nauseam for some reason reminds me of 'lay down your arms and surrender to me...'. Remember that silly tune covered by the Beatles on the Live At The BBC album? Boy, one sure picks up odd associations when listening to Robert Plant. Although come to think of it, the melody's mainly just been ripped off of Ray Charles' 'Unchain My Heart' (a MUCH better song). As for 'Horizontal Departure', it's very tedious in the verses section, but at least it has this fast semi-catchy chorus that's oh so stingy Eighties-pop it hurts, but hey, for a drop of catchiness! For a little piece o' rock stickin' out from under the dirty water! Spoiled, polluted by generic production values and total lack of musical ideas! And a Phil Collins on drums on top! And God only knows on what else!

It's kinda hard for me to say at least anything about the other four songs. I remember for sure that I didn't vomit while they were on - although, frankly speaking, I'm not so certain about the capacity of my memory at the moment, and it could well be that I have simply spent all the contents of my stomach on the preceding album. But I sure as hell can't really remember even if they were rockers or ballads, although I did give it the required three listens. I suppose it was some kind of 'average' between the two - ballad-resembling rockers, or rockin'-potential ballads. And the length, the length, it just kills... five minutes is normal for a song on here, but when each song has one or two different ideas at best, it HURTS. It saws through your brain, spoils your mood, sucks out all the life energy, I won't even mention what these songs have done to my AURA. Suffice it to say that about 50% of that stuff is further untalented 'Kashmir' rip-offs, and the other 50% is weather channel music. I sure wouldn't object from having Robbie Blunt play in my band if I had one... some of his guitar parts are very tastefully done, but I would certainly want him to play something different. Oh, and did I say 'Kashmir' rip-offs? Not necessarily so. On 'Thru' With The Two Step', for instance, I think I hear obvious 'I'm Gonna Crawl' references in tone and mood. But that's more a pure and dry statement of fact than an actual endorsement of any kind.

So it's an eight, and a rather weak one at that - and frankly speaking, I REALLY don't understand how the hell a song as jello-like as 'Big Log' could ever become a hit single. Due to the ambiguous title? 'In The Mood', that's a different matter. It has some potential. Whatever. Final delirious note: the most obnoxious thing on the album is the final section to 'Stranger Here... Than Over There', where the band goes for a stupid imitation of the 'orgasmic' section on 'Whole Lotta Love' and Plant even stoops to whining 'push... push...' a couple of times. Jimmy must have wanted to get an overdose upon hearing that.



(released by: ROBERT PLANT)

Year Of Release: 1985
Overall rating = 9

I can just imagine Robert sweating it off in one o' them dorky night clubs...


Track listing: 1) Hip To Hoo; 2) Kallalou Kallalou; 3) Too Loud; 4) Trouble Your Money; 5) Pink And Black; 6) Little By Little; 7) Doo Doo A Doo Doo; 8) Easily Lead; 9) Sixes And Sevens.

This time around, Robert decided to go with the times and make a dance-pop album - and Robert really doesn't go for half measures, you know; if it's dull and boring metaphysical balladeering, it takes up all of the record, so if it's dance-pop, you may be sure it takes up all of the record, together with the liner notes, the inner sleeve, the music store, the neighbourhoods, the entire planet! When Robbie's on a roll, nothing can stop him!

Seriously now, I'm not really quite sure what to make of this album. Plant had always had a soft spot for 'dance' music, that was obvious from lots of material from post-IV Led Zep albums. 'The Crunge', 'Royal Orleans', stuff like that, you know. But it's one thing to play an occasional funk or pedestrian-boogie number on a record of otherwise 'serious' material, especially when you have a glorious axeman and one of the world's best rhythm sections to back you up, and another thing to make an album of dance tunes in the mid-Eighties. Be you an incomparable genius of immeasurable talent proportions, you're still bound to be up to your neck in embarrassments, and Robert Plant is no genius at that. The dorkiness of this album is actually hard to overestimate. Drum machines, cheesy synths with very little guitars in sight, and when there are guitars, they're typical mid Eighties guitars, you know, when distortion became not as much a sign of rebellion as a sign of 'coolness' among the brainless crowds of the day, and hard rock died an uneasy death... It's as if Robbie Blunt's style on the previous two albums had never existed. In addition, there are corny female backup vocals turning up on most of the tracks.

On the other hand, I can't help but feel a little bit ambiguous about this stuff. Sure it's stupid, but at least it ain't as boring as the preceding two albums. I know some fans would massacre me for preferring this 'lightweight' piece of pseudo-entertainment to the 'real meat' of Plant's solo career, but lighten up, people, there's nothing on here that would be more silly than 'Big Love' or 'Slow Dancer'. Don't mistake pompous form for serious content. At least Shaken 'N' Stirred doesn't pretend to be more than it actually is: a collection of slow/mid-tempo/fast dance grooves. Or you could say it's in the 'so bad it's good' category. Or something like that. Anyway, the question is - are any of these grooves any good? And the answer is: well, NO. For the most part, they suck just as badly as anything Robert wrote on the last two albums. There's too few memorable moments on the album for me to cast apart the shadow of doubt and cry out, 'HELL! This is an eleven, no less!'

But there are a few good moments, too. A few good songs, even. 'Little By Little' is a good song, danceable, yeah, but less dumb than the rest, and Plant establishes an excellent soulful groove on it - yes, the man can sound really touching and really emotional when he wants to, and there's even a couple of hooks on the song. Yup. It's about the only moment of soul opening on the album, but then there's goofy stuff like 'Doo Doo A Do Do' with that strange bass loop that really seems to be going in circles on the spot. I like that sound - I think it could have been used on a better track, but let's not be too demanding.

And then there's purely outrageous crap like 'Too Loud' which is so dang hilarious I can't bring myself to sentencing Mr Plant to extra years of hell punishment for it. Plant rapping? 'Whoah-hoah' noises? That dinky chooka-chooka synth pattern a la Phil Collins? ('Who Dunnit' references spring to mind). 'THIS TIME!'. 'Hop hop hop hop hop hop hop hop'. 'Hold tight, baby'. 'THAT'S RIGHT NOW!'. Boom boom. More Plant rapping. 'Hoo! Talk to them, Victor!' More chooka-chooka. 'Okay... okay, as much consideration for the Arthurian legend as been given to this [...] project that can be imagined by the entire record buying public, it is now quite conceivable that it has absolutely nothing to do with this... absolutely nothing to do with anything at all to do with this...' 'Talk to me Victor talk to me Victor!'. That's Robert Plant's idea of a dance album, and you know what? He makes me feel like I'm off my rocker, and I probably already am. Not to mention I can't really grab him by the collar and shove his mug into some particular embarrassment chanting 'Hey Robbie, now look what you've done! You've gone and put another spot onto the already dubious reputation of your former band!'

Hey, what do you want to make of a record that begins with a pair of songs entitled 'Hip To Hoo' and 'Kallalou Kallalou'? By the way, I just remembered that 'Little By Little' isn't the only 'serious' song on here; 'Sixes And Sevens' is pretty serious too. It's the 'Big Log' of the record - a profound rant with next to no memorable melody and a lot of, well, profundity. 'Shallow profundity', if you like the way this sounds, eh? Anyway, it's definitely not the worst product to come out of the Eighties, as forgettable as it ultimately is. At least, when compared to Rod Stewart's contemporary dance efforts, Shaken 'N' Stirred is positively genius. At least Plant is actually trying to do something on this album, while Rod was just chewing whatever cud his untalented colleagues and producers were shoving in his mouth. But DON'T MAKE THIS RECORD YOUR FIRST LED ZEPPELIN PURCHASE! I know you're already tempted to, but don't do it. The Firm is sooo much better...



(released by: ROBERT PLANT)

Year Of Release: 1988
Overall rating = 10

There are, like, SONGS on here as opposed to grooves and pseudo-metaphysic landscapes.

Best song: DANCE ON MY OWN

Track listing: 1) Heaven Knows; 2) Dance On My Own; 3) Tall Cool One; 4) The Way I Feel; 5) Helen Of Troy; 6) Billy's Revenge; 7) Ship Of Fools; 8) Why; 9) White, Clean And Neat; 10) Walking Towards Paradise.

Late Eighties? That's nice! Late Eighties was that moment when 'dinosaurs' were overcoming their midlife crisis, and consequently started writing better music, and Mr Plant was of that same breed. Now And Zen is a good album. It takes all of the previous ingredients, adds a few punchlines, rockin' beats and hooks, and in the end comes out as a record that's a bit hard to categorize. I mean, it's also typical Eighties' product, of course, but it's pretty diverse: dance grooves go hand in hand with more traditional rock'n'roll and more traditional balladeering stuff, and this is all topped by a cool-looking Robbie with a tired and grim, but also wisened up look on his face. Did I ever mention that according to my personal tastes, Mr Plant is the ugliest lookin' member of the entire crew?

Anyway, nothing can prevent the ugliest lookin' member of the entire crew to be the dorkiest as well. If the album title is indeed supposed to be a reference to Zen of any kind, I can't quite understand in what way does Zen thematics have anything to do with any of the songs on here (granted, it's still nowhere near as ridiculous as naming a ferocious rocker 'Nirvana' on his subsequent record). But dorky or no, there's a lot of g... er, interesting tunes on here. See, from a pure refined strict boring melodic point of view, I wouldn't even want to begin discussing these songs. They're not riff-based, for the most part, and when they are, the riffs aren't at all memorable. The vocal melodies... er, that's Robert Plant we're discussing here, the man who was always famous for transcribing the blabber of one-year old little boys on tape and then memorizing it for his next song. (Disclaimer: that previous sentence was just a metaphor. Disclaimer #2: don't get offended at me for putting up the first disclaimer because judging by my experience, there are people in this world that would be ready to take that phrase seriously, and I really don't want legal suits from Robert Plant! I love the guy anyway. Oh, the Fish Incident...).

So, okay, maybe the songs are rote and maybe they're not, but there's at least always something interesting going on about them. 'Heaven Knows' sounds like a cross between 'Kashmir'-era Zeppelin and Visitors-era ABBA, with a moderately catchy chorus that is more than Pictures At Eleven could ever hope for. 'Dance On My Own' has a... a... a moderately catchy chorus, too. It's silly and dinky, but there's a little bit of magic at the bottom of the barrel when they chant that corny 'oh-whoah-oh' refrain. Like the 'shadowy' Gilmourish guitar too. 'Tall Cool One' is... gee baby, now that's an embarrassment but I dig it like a three-year old. Nothing in this world could be cornier than that exact combination of an electronic drum beat, robotic piano phrases and rockabilly guitar licks, but THAT'S THE POINT! 'You like my loving machine I like your bloodshot eye!' Isn't that, er, paradise? The kind of song that brings a whole new life to the old cliche of 'guilty pleasure'? And, of course, that generic rappy intermission - 'You stroll, you jump you're hot and you tease 'cause I'm your tall cool one and I'm built to please'. Now tell me tell me tell me that Robert was laughing his ass off when he was recording that song. If I ever get proof that he was recording this stuff with a serious and dedicated look on his face, I'll lose my faith in humanity, that last drop of it that still remains after hearing Principle Of Moments...

'The Way I Feel' is quite serious, on the other hand - a return to the 'metaphysical style' of old, but highlighted by a very pretty acoustic 'half-riff' on the choruses that gives the song a folkish optimistic feel that pulls it out of the usual muck. 'Helen Of Troy', meanwhile, is just an old-style pop rocker with a... wait, didn't I say 'moderately catchy chorus', like, a few lines above or so? I guess I did. Man, these songs are all REALLY different. REALLY different, it's just that they all have their main strength in moderately catchy choruses.

I know what I'll do - I'll just stop discussing the individual titles here. (Can't help noticing the irresistable punch of 'Why', though, and the emotional resonance of the album closer 'Walking Towards Paradise', but okay, okay, I'm shutting up already.) I just want you to understand this one thing: from a pure analytical dissecting position, Now And Zen is utter garbage. You have to activate your sixth sense or something like that in order to find the few redeeming qualities of the record. For some reason, this sixth sense really speaks in favour of it, when it's been so often speaking violently against Led Zeppelin records. This could be the start of a new era! A serious detailed analysis of Robert Plant solo albums! Finding out their hidden charms and digging into the deepest untouchable dark depths of the mysteries of one's subconscience! But I really don't feel like doing it now - it's 2 A.M., and my subconscience is already sleeping and inviting my conscience to follow suit. So let me just conclude this review by repeating what I have already said: Now And Zen is a reasonable combination of everything that made each preceding individual Plant album, er, Plant-like, so if you wanna taste the man's solo career, you may as well start here. Or you may not. You may start out by investigating the Fish Incident! Oh shit, I just deprived Led Zep of a bunch of fans... nasty nasty.

P.S. Ever noticed Plant's self-sampling on 'Tall Cool One'? 'Hey hey mama', taken directly from 'Black Dog'? What do you make of this self-reference?



(released by: ROBERT PLANT)

Year Of Release: 1990
Overall rating = 11

How come this guy finds new ways of improving on his genericness with every new year?

Best song: I CRIED

Track listing: 1) Hurting Kind; 2) Big Love; 3) S S S & Q; 4) I Cried; 5) She Said; 6) Nirvana; 7) Tie Dye On The Highway; 8) Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night; 9) Anniversary; 10) Liar's Dance; 11) Watching You.

Well, well, well... Somebody must have walked over to Robbie Plant after a show, lightly tapped him on the shoulder and said: 'Hey! That was a great show, but I thought you were once a member of that great metal band, Led Zeppelin? Or maybe it was some other Robert Plant?' And Robbie got all sick and depressed and finally said, 'Right! I'll make a Led Zeppelin album if they want me to!'. And Manic Nirvana rocks hard as a result. All the songs just RIP out of their shells, with bashing crashing drums, fat distorted guitars all over the place, fast tempos, occasionally screeching vocals, overexaggerated choruses... all of this never falling on even a single half-creative, half-innovative idea. For the most part, this record just screams COCK ROCK at you from every corner. Smutty lyrics, even - 'Big Love' is as far removed from 'Big Log' as possible.

But dang it, I love this album. I feel ashamed to admit it, but I love this album. Then again, why should I ever feel ashamed? On the contrary, I must praise Robert for taking that wretched genre (further massacred by late Eighties generic production) and coming up with interesting songs where others would have probably never really bothered to find hooks and impressive melody resolutions when the penis waggling alone would count. True, there are some embarrassments along the way, and Robert's strange tendency to 'sample' sounds of the past is not a thing I really approve of, as when he incorporates excerpts from the Woodstock stage banter ('Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast and bed for four hundred thousand...') into 'Tie Dye On The Highway'. But most songs, co-written with guitarist Chris Blackwell and other band members, definitely have their moments. If this really was Plant's idea of a rocking comeback, he succeeded! As amazing it is - I, for one, would never have expected him to be able to successfully pull off a cock rock album thus late in his career.

I mean, take that controversial song, 'Big Love', with lyrical matters akin to the ones you'll be encountering on Kiss records. However stupid it sounds, it's a pretty driving funk number at any case, with a real catchy, if repetitive and 'dinky' chorus. And a messy, but powerful chaotic coda. And a generic, but effective guitar solo. It's sleazy and offensive, but it's also memorable, and not for a single second do I really get the feeling that Plant is just exposing his fading sexuality on this song. He doesn't even overscream! What happened?

Of course, 'Big Love' isn't the best number on the record. But there are many worthy candidates. What about the opening rocker, 'Hurting Kind'? Am I the only one to think that Plant was going for a very 'Black Dog'-ish opener on here, only less bluesy than its predecessor? Am I the only one to think that the 'all right, all right, all right I got my eyes on you' chorus is sheer genius? Am I the only one to think that Plant sounds more convincing on that thing than he sounds on 'Stairway To Heaven'? (Hey, the boy's always been a friggin' horrid mystical poseur, but he's always been one darn find cock rocker!). Then there's 'She Said', with a strange mess of Eastern influences, Sabbath-esque wah-wah riffage, and shrill, ear-blasting guitar trills that seem to be telling us: "Yes, mister, this album is overproduced, but listen to us, we're guitars and we're fresh and we're human played! Refresh yourself!" There's also the retroish 'Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night', replete with record hiss which doesn't really go anywhere because the production is unmistakably Eighties/Nineties, still, the song's cool.

The primary effect, like I think I already let you know, was to bang the listeners over the ears with the great wall of rockin' sound - which doesn't mean there aren't a few lighter songs. The power ballad 'Anniversary', for instance, is saved from the usual power ballad fate because it's more pessimistic in nature than the usual 'emotional', 'optimistic' call-to-arms that most of the power ballads. It boasts a supercool solo from Doug Boyle, martial rhythms, unintelligible lyrics and everything that goes along with that stuff. But maybe my favourites are actually the tearful acoustic ballad 'Liars Dance' and the moody shivery folksy shuffle/Goth send-up 'I Cried'. The clear acoustic shuffle, the dreadful distorted wail in the background, the medievalistic backing vocals, and, of course, the mystery-shrouded 'this is why I cried' chorus all combine to make the song a masterpiece, really worthy of Led Zep... why couldn't Plant have been writing songs like that at the time of Physical Graffiti? But maybe I shouldn't ask.

But maybe instead of that I should ask why the hell is the song 'Nirvana' arranged as a powerful arena-rocker? And why does it seem to me that Robert is using the word 'Nirvana' as the name of his gal rather than a particular state of further non-existence in the material world? What I immediately suggest is that the Dalai-lama start immediately suing Mr Plant for mocking the cause of Buddhism. If he's successful, he may just gain the financial support that's necessary in order to arm the Tibetan monks to win their independence. But don't tell anybody this advice stems from me, I wouldn't want to make enemies with the Chinese government. I'm just a poor innocent reviewer who happened to like Robert Plant's fifth solo release even if he was expecting a pile of shit. Come now, would you be expecting anything but a pile of shit from a record with such a dreadfully provocative cover?



(released by: ROBERT PLANT)

Year Of Release: 1993
Overall rating = 12

Don't believe the title. Don't believe the album sleeve. For once, believe the fuckin' HUMAN in Robert Plant.

Best song: I BELIEVE

Track listing: 1) Calling To You; 2) Down To The Sea; 3) Come Into My Life; 4) I Believe; 5) 29 Palms; 6) Memory Song (Hello Hello); 7) If I Were A Carpenter; 8) Colors Of A Shade; 9) Promised Land; 10) The Greatest Gift; 11) Great Spirit; 12) Network News.

Something must have surely happened during the minuscule two-year period between Manic Nirvana and this album, because it'd be hard to imagine two albums more stylistically and emotionally different from one another, unless you bring Central Siberian folk motives into the picture. But it's more than just a matter of "difference"; it's almost a matter of "rebirth". Fate Of Nations offers us a new, revised and restructured version of Robert Plant, one you could only see occasional brief glimpses of in the past. It's a cleaned up, sobered up, straightened up, wisened up version of Robert Plant. If Robert Plant had been Tigger, this version of Robert Plant would have been the Domesticated Tigger of Rabbit's dreams. Only this time Rabbit's dreams have actually come alive.

And it's a great version of Robert Plant. You know, ever since he became hiding behind all the gimmicks and antics of mid-period Zeppelin, as I now realize, in the heat of all the gimmick-bashing I have almost managed to forget how totally cool his singing voice was from the very beginning, and how it never really lost any of its power since the day it first became known to soon-to-be Zep fans. Behind the "baby babies", and all the strutting, and all the posturing, and all the meaningless, but pompous lyrics, I've missed the actual guy. And this is where I get the actual guy - disarmed and almost frighteningly sincere, first time since... well, ever, I guess!

Yep, this is an old man's album. Another old man's album out of a miriad. It doesn't rock too hard and it sure doesn't experiment. And it radically and utterly and completely steps away from any trends there might have been in the past two decades; indeed, many of the songs seriously attempt to recreate the classic Zeppelin sound of old instead, and some actually succeed, thus paving the way for Plant's reunion with Page in the next few years. It's also rather long and I couldn't call all of its melodies instantly memorable. But it touched something deep within me upon the very first listen, and now, completing my fourth, I feel ready to make the final conclusion: Fate Of Nations can honestly rank up there with some of Led Zeppelin's best work, and there's no shame in believing that.

It is quite different, though. Like I said - no strutting ('Promised Land' has some, but it's just a cute little exception that only proves the rule). Those with little tolerance towards non-aggressive, easy-going (by all means not to be confused with "easy listening"!) rootsy pop will hardly understand how anything on here can be discussed on equal terms with 'Whole Lotta Love' or 'Stairway To Heaven'. No, this is quiet stuff, and certainly nowhere near groundbreaking. But it's amazingly consistent - not one tune on here that hasn't got some interesting point to prove - and there's about as much sincere passion and humanism here as there is swagger and youthful arrogance on Zep's '68-'71 albums.

No Led Zeppelin song, let alone a Robert Plant solo song, has ever made me cry (although 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' and 'I'm Gonna Crawl' came pretty close at times). All the more amazing is how 'I Believe', a tune you might know since it was a single and got some good airplay in its time, manages to hold me in Robert's own shoes for four minutes, making me care about his long-lost son almost as if it were my own offspring. As much as I like Clapton's 'Tears In Heaven', I'm afraid Robbie wins here, with one of the saddest and at the same time most uplifting odes to a dead person ever written. The lyrics are never obtrusive - it's not even that easy to tell who the song is addressed to without a very scrupulous analysis - and Plant's vocal delivery is absolutely breathtaking; I get goosebumps every time the 'neighbour, neighbour, don't be so cold' line rings out loud and clear. Throw in some great vocal harmonies; fresh, lively guitar jangle and a Byrds-ey guitar solo; and a moderate synthesizer backdrop that happens to actually add depth rather than reinstate banality. Gorgeous.

It's clearly the best song, but it's only one song, after all - what if he let us down with the rest of this material? He doesn't. Even the more 'fillerish' tracks, like the unexpected cover of Tim Hardin's 'If I Were A Carpenter' (the early precursor to Dreamland), is graciously sung and arranged, with exquisite orchestration, pretty acoustic guitar, and a weird sitar track as a bonus. The already mentioned 'Promised Land' doesn't quite fit in with the mood, but it's a hoot, almost a benevolent parody on classic Led Zeppelin: its main groove and arrangement tricks including echoey harmonica make me think of 'When The Levee Breaks', among other things. But even then Plant is nowhere near obnoxious, delivering the moderately smutty lyrics in a weird, hoarse manner.

As for the carefully thought out material, much of it is absolutely first-rate. 'Calling To You' once again tries to capture the 'Kashmir' vibe, but this time with memorable riffs and really interesting mood shifts between verse and chorus. 'Down To The Sea' is upbeat and toe-tappable but essentially folksy, combining a taste for the archaic with a love for all things catchy and radio-ready. 'Come Into My Life' is Plant at his pleading best, conveying desperation and longing by actually singing the lines rather than adlibbing moot stuff. (I seem to remember Maire Brennan of Clannad credited for backing vocals here - or was it on a different song from the same album? in any case, there's plenty of traditional Celtic elements as well as Enya-style-ified treatings of the same on here, and it's good).

The record might drag in a few spots (it IS long), but it's nowhere near as monotonous as this review might make it seem; it's just that since the melodies rarely "jump out" at you, at first there might be a suspicion of the album being too 'smooth'. It isn't, really. Apart from pseudo-adult contemporary, folkish stuff, Eastern stuff, and direct Zep imitations, there's also some straightforward catchy guitar pop like '29 Palms' - a song that I first thought bland and uninteresting, but later found totally addictive because of the great guitar arrangement - and some of Plant's obligatory pagan mysticism ('Great Spirit') which is sorta like heavy-metal-meets-New-Age on practice, and even a heavy rocker about the Gulf War ('Network News') which, once again, doesn't quite fit in with the rest, but contains some excellent riffage and basically achieves its not-so-complex goal, namely, to kick some political ass.

In short, Fate Of Nations done me good. It gave me (so far) four hours of what I'd call "rational enjoyment" - even when the music wasn't THAT good, it felt great listening to it just because instead of getting all the bad things you'd expected, you weren't getting none of it; the sight of Robert Plant doing an album so decidedly "un-Robert Plant", and doing it with confidence, devotion, and sympathy, was enough to put the juice back in the cherry, if you pardon a sleazy metaphor. And when the music was good, it made me think of Robert Plant as a sensitive human being, heck, just a real person, not a long haired stage muppet. And kudos to his backing band as well: they seem to be more or less the same as on Manic Nirvana, and yet they are able to deliver tasteful, gallant music in the "laid back" vein just as genuinely as they were able to deliver brawny rock'n'roll two years ago.


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