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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV CD (album) cover


Led Zeppelin


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4.39 | 1060 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
5 stars Voted in many polls as the definitive rock album, worshipped by many and dismissed by others, Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album, with its intriguing, folky cover and mysterious symbolism, is the stuff legends are made of. Like other albums enjoying the same sort of hallowed status, it often makes unbelievers wonder what can be so special about it. After over 35 years from its release, Led Zep IV still commands respect, love, adoration, even out and out puzzlement. Sheer hype, or real star quality?

In 1971, England's other Fab Four were at the top of their game. With a charismatic, innovative guitarist like Jimmy Page, golden god Robert Plant providing his unique vocal delivery, powered by John Bonham's nuclear-warhead drumming and John Paul Jones' understated yet indispensable bass work, Led Zeppelin were set to take no prisoners. Their take on traditional blues blended with harsh, raucous hard rock on their first two albums, and shaded in a softer, folkier approach on their third effort. Led Zep IV summarised the whole of the band's career up to that point in time, and showed the way for the more experimental approach of their following albums. You get the folk, the blues, the rock'n'roll, even the prog in the space of just eight songs - something most other bands would sell their souls to be able to achieve.

The one-two punch of the album's opening songs, "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll", packs a wallop that has very few equals in rock. Plant wails with a siren's wild abandon, Page riffs and shreds all over the place, while the rythm section gives a new definition to the expression 'rock-solid'. In particular, Bonham's drum sound on this album has launched a thousand imitators, none even remotely approaching the original. Then, all of a sudden, the aural assault recedes, and the listener is confronted with one of the most beautiful, haunting examples of prog-folk ever... the magical "The Battle of Evermore", with its vaguely Tolkien-inspired lyrics, John Paul Jones's lilting mandolin, and Plant's voice blending perfectly with guest vocalist's Sandy Denny (of Fotheringay and Fairport Convention fame) crystal-clear tones.

The song that closes the album's first part is a legend in its own right. Overplayed, covered, slaughtered and what not, "Stairway to Heaven" is doubtlessly one of the most recognizable tunes in the history of rock music. However, strip it of all the hype accumulated over the past 36 years, and you'll find a song that's as near perfect as it can get.The sweet, wistful, acoustic guitar melody that opens the song is mirrored by Page's blistering solo at the end, while Plant delivers a commanding vocal performance, in turn lyrical and aggressive. Eight minutes of pure bliss, a classic in the true sense of the word.

Though the songs in the second part are certainly more understated than the above-mentioned titans, they have an undeniable charm. The rockier "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Four Sticks" (whose title comes from John Bonham playing drums with four sticks instead of the ordinary two) are followed by the mellow, gentle hippie hymn "Going to California"; while album closer, a Led Zep take on a traditional Delta blues song aptly titled "When the Levee Breaks", complete with Plant's wailing harmonica, features a monstrous performance by Bonham that has been sampled time and time again. That torrential drum sound has to be heard to be believed - it almost seems to reproduce the sheer violence of a river flood.

Prog? Not really, with the notable exception of the two standout tracks, "The Battle..." and "Stairway...". So, why the five stars? Is it a masterpiece of prog music? Hardly, but a masterpiece for sure, a giant of an album that has left its mark on the rock world - perhaps not influential at all in a prog sense, but essential listening all the same. Leave the hype at the door, and approach with an open mind. You'll surely be rewarded.

Raff | 5/5 |


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