These Led Zeppelin Guys Are Surprisingly Good
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. January 22, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 4
Riffs by Lucian K. Truscott
THE ALBUM OPENS on an almost quiet note. It's Jimmy Page's guitar, fuzz-toned to a near-static level, slow-picked, then chord-picked in an understated treatment of what you just know is the back beat to a good song. You turn the volume up. At that instant, one riff into the piece, an over-dose of bass comes in, slowly at first, almost haltingly, for the second riff. Then it's Robert Plant. Robert Plant with his voice almost as obnoxious as it is engaging. "You need cool air, Baby I'm not fooling', I'm gonna send you, Back to school heah." On the verge, his voice is. On the verge of what, you're not quite sure.
Cracking, splitting, quitting, breaking into something almost, yes, pretty. Volume up a little higher. You're digging by now that this is a high-register record. Fiddle with the bass knob, sharpen up the treble. Bring out the cymbal in the back beat. Send Plant's voice over the edge, up the wall. Let it drip out of the speakers like a sick batch of taffy. "Whole Lotta Love." AM record of the future and surprise of the present.
Led Zeppelin, popularly looked on as an English version of Blue Cheer, given to Vanilla Fudgeish heavy-handedness in all that it does, has come out with a good album, "Led Zeppelin II" (Atlantic SD 8236). Sure, it's "heavy." Sure, it's volume-rock at a time when the trend seems to be toward acoustical niceties of country music. But for what it is, a hard rock album with no pretenses in either design or execution, it works.
"Whole Lotta Love" -- I first heard it on my car radio playing the local schlock AM station in an area where I couldn't pick up a distant country station. I left my radio tuned to that station for two days trying to hear who was responsible for the song. Got a nice, raunchy beat that never leaves ground but allows Page's guitar and Plant's voice to make occasional forays into the sky on what can only be called a space trip of sorts. It's nice to hear a group experiment -- with everything from double-back echo to Page's jet-engined notes in his guitar's fuzzed-up high range -- and make it. Page's guitar, on any one of several off-shoots, is superb. He seats an example that other lead guitarists might note: his runs are mercifully brief, though characteristically self-indulgent. His combination of brevity and soloing ego, it seems, is the correct one. The entire album benefits from it. Plant's voice, which I thought on their first album to be at sometimes adolescent, sometimes completely non-musical, has found a stylistic niche that not only fits the music, but does its share to drive it. His combination of hoarsely coughed half-syllables and soaring scream sobs lends itself beautifully to Page's guitar, and when it comes right down to it, those two are what the group is all about.
The rest of the album is a nicely assembled package that is, at best, good, hard rock, and, at worst, slightly repetitive. "Heartbreaker" is another in the "Whole Lotta Love" vein, a driving back beat providing a platform from which Plant and Page are able to perform their respective acrobatics. "Moby Dick" is a nice instrumental piece that is unfortunately interrupted by a seemingly endless drum solo. "The Lemon Song" is a sexed-up blues piece that proves once again that the British "blues-rock" groups (including Jeff Beck and Terry Reid) are far better off sticking to their own particular brand of rock. When the song opens up with an instrumental brea, it makes up for previous "blues" pretenses. "Thank You" is an acceptable slow piece that provides a pleasant intermission from the rest of the album. Plant's voice takes on an almost human quality while drums and an ethereal lead guitar, for once, lead the way.
I'll admit it. "Led Zeppelin II" surprised me. I expected anything but listenable hard stuff before I heard it. But it was a pleasant surprise -- one I feel is worth getting in on. Give them a chance.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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