Review Summary: Pulled back by repetitiveness and redeemed by shards of brilliance
It's sometimes inadvisable to go against public opinion. Calling natural disasters justified is an example. However, this is the point of Sputnik: you are able to give your opinion without fear of personal slights.
So without further ado, I introduce Led Zeppelin I. The wraps on this album are huge. Rolling Stone Magazine has it ranked at #29 in its top 500 albums list, thirty seven spots higher than the unbelievably great Led Zeppelin IV. The explanation for this isn’t over enlightening and, having purchased, listened to, analysed and rated the album, I’m beginning to suspect that it is a typo and that IV and I should be in each other’s places.
Led Zeppelin is rooted in Deep South blues and bad relationship balladry at the debut of their careers. Their unbelievable fusion and union in conveyance of their music is not quite there: they are a sum of their parts, but seemingly a click apart from each other, as if each band member is trying to outdo the other.
Except for vocalist Robert Plant, that is. Plant has admitted that his voice had a long way to go on I. What would seal his name in coming years as a legend of rock n roll were his onstage performances: adorning flamboyant clothes and strutting through power stances while he flicked his mane of Adonis hair, singing with power, glower and serious range and being an untouchable sex symbol. He made high vocals manly. On I, his range has less height and howl. He still delivers brilliantly in the Spanish acoustic/blistering electric Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and bombastic overload of Dazed and Confused, but overall he is clearly the band’s weakest link at this point.
His lyrics are fairly repetitive. Of the eight songs that Plant wrote the lyrics for on the album, five (Dazed and Confused, Your Time Is Gonna Come, Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby and How Many More Times) are about cruel, heartbreaking and unfaithful women that Plant loves and can’t let go of. And while Dazed and Confused is a sensational track, by the time you get to Communication Breakdown you’ll be forgiven if you focus on the music more than the lyrics.
The music is fairly impressive stuff. Jimmy Page, the greatest guitarist to grace this planet, offers some buckshot riffs on Good Times Bad Times and How Many More Times with a bluesy fuzz twang on Communication Breakdown. He delivers some searing and stunning solos and boasts with his bowed guitar party trick to top it all off. John Paul Jones shows his versatility as a multi-instrumentalist, particularly on Your Time Is Gonna Come with his trippy organ and Dazed and Confused as he carries the riff on bass. John Bonham pummels some avalanche rolls throughout the album and is probably the only member of the group who has found his exact career role to the letter.
As far as rating all the songs goes, watch out for the sweltering Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and dark rage of Dazed and Confused. It’s all fairly solid from thereon with Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby and How Many More Times. Your Time Is Gonna Come is take or leave and the instrumental country style filler Black Mountain Side is a classic example of how Zep are not quite at their astonishing peak. If you want Led Zeppelin instrumentals, look on Led Zeppelin II for Moby Dick or Physical Graffiti for Bron-Yr-Aur. The only real dud is You Shook Me-at 6:28 with a thin handful of lyrics, you’re always going to struggle. The dull dum-da-dum trudge beat is a weak effort at the sexually charged half time rhythm and blues that AC/DC would do so well. It really isn’t worth listening to until the last fifty seconds, when Plant and Page do their brilliant call-and-response hollering.
Just a few months later, with the release of Led Zeppelin II, the band would confirm phenomenon status. Although I is overrated, you can see the bones of the legend being laid. However, the real flesh and flash of later albums (that’s II, IV and Physical Graffiti) is where there greatness lies.