It might seem a bit incongruous to say that Led Zeppelin — a band never particularly known for its tendency to understate matters — has produced an album which is remarkable for its low-keyed and tasteful subtlety, but that’s just the case here. The march of the dinosaurs that broke the ground for their first epic release has apparently vanished, taking along with it the splattering electronics of their second effort and the leaden acoustic moves that seemed to weigh down their third. What’s been saved is the pumping adrenaline drive that held the key to such classics as “Communication Breakdown” and “Whole Lotta Love,” the incredibly sharp and precise vocal dynamism of Robert Plant, and some of the tightest arranging and producing Jimmy Page has yet seen his way toward doing. If this thing with the semi-metaphysical title isn’t quite their best to date, since the very chances that the others took meant they would visit some outrageous highs as well as some overbearing lows, it certainly comes off as their most consistently good.
One of the ways in which this is demonstrated is the sheer variety of the album: out of eight cuts, there isn’t one that steps on another’s toes, that tries to do too much all at once. There are Olde Englishe ballads (“The Battle of Evermore” with a lovely performance by Sandy Denny), a kind of pseudo-blues just to keep in touch (“Four Sticks”), a pair of authentic Zeppelinania (“Black Dog” and “Misty Mountain Hop”), some stuff that I might actually call shy and poetic if it didn’t carry itself off so well (“Stairway to Heaven” and “Going To California”) …
… and a couple of songs that when all is said and done, will probably be right up there in the gold-starred hierarchy of put ’em on and play ’em again. The first, coyly titled “Rock And Roll,” is the Zeppelin’s slightly-late attempt at tribute to the mother of us all, but here it’s definitely a case of better late than never. This sonuvabitch moves, with Plant musing vocally on how “It’s been a long, lonely lonely time” since last he rock & rolled, the rhythm section soaring underneath. Page strides up to take a nice lead during the break, one of the all-too-few times he flashes his guitar prowess during the record, and its note-for-note simplicity says a lot for the ways in which he’s come of age over the past couple of years.
The end of the album is saved for “When The Levee Breaks,” strangely credited to all the members of the band plus Memphis Minnie, and it’s a dazzler. Basing themselves around one honey of a chord progression, the group constructs an air of tunnel-long depth, full of stunning resolves and a majesty that sets up as a perfect climax. Led Zep have had a lot of imitators over the past few years, but it takes cuts like this to show that most of them have only picked up the style, lacking any real knowledge of the meat underneath.
Uh huh, they got it down all right. And since the latest issue of Cashbox noted that this ‘un was a gold disc on its first day of release, I guess they’re about to nicely keep it up. Not bad for a pack of Limey lemon squeezers.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in November 1971.
From Rolling Stone US