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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV CD (album) cover


Led Zeppelin


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4.39 | 1106 ratings

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5 stars I remember the words that went through my head when I first heard this. 'This is what music should sound like.'

The first thing that strikes the listener is that, for the first time on record, some musical barrier has been broken through. 'Black Dog' starts the album with drums unlike anyone had ever heard back in 1971. Visceral thumps coupled with a crispness light years beyond the muddied sounds of their peers. Remember this came out in the same year as GENESIS' 'Nursery Cryme'. It set a sonic high point not surpassed until Alan PARSONS and PINK FLOYD got togehter two years later. But it's not the quality of the sound that sets it apart: it's the pure arrogance of the music, the incredible in-your-face self- confidence so soon after the introverted and somewhat timid sounds of LED ZEPPELIN III. Staggering.

To come out with an introductory track like 'Black Dog', with its complex rhythm and stop-start sound, took a great deal of courage. Then to follow it with a simple rock 'n' roll song was genius. And then, after eight minutes of skin pounding, for Bonham to hang up the sticks for ten minutes was beyond genius and into once-in-a-lifetime inspiration. So when the drums return halfway through 'Stairway' we can't help be lifted. That's why 'Stairway' should only be listened to in the context of the entire first side. And no, I'm not sick of it. Never will be.

I haven't mentioned the gorgeous 'Battle of Evermore'. It's a folk-based song far more mature than anything on III, a vehicle for PLANT to introduce his fantasy elements. The vocal work by PLANT and SANDY DENNY is brilliant.

Let's review, then. These one-time blues cover artists (that's how I see much of their first two albums) have, in the space of two years, become the ultimate progressive unit. You don't believe me? Check the list. An album where the order of the songs matters musically - a progression of music. Complex rhythms and meters. Fantasy elements. Utter bombast and grandiose sound. And the first twenty minutes draws to a cathartic climax that pointed the way for a thousand musicians and songwriters.

Side Two doesn't measure up to this high standard, but it's still an excellent listen. But the genius of the first side is revealed by contrast, as these four songs don't come together in the same way. All of them, however, are polished like jewels, and have their own progressive sensibilities. 'When The Levee Breaks' borrows from an old blues number - I've heard the original, and boy, is there a difference - but at least this is acknowledged in the writing credits, something LED ZEPPELIN often failed to do. That incredible slab of stairway drumming has been sampled by countless artists: I've got at least a dozen recordings where the artists acknowledge the source. (For just one, listen to MIKE OLDFIELD'S 'Magellan' from 'Songs Of Distant Earth'). That marvellous keyboard line three minutes into 'Four Sticks' is hardly ever mentioned, but what a sublime moment.

Artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s came at progressive rock from many different directions. Remember there was no such definition back then, and no real blueprint. What happened was that artists were influenced by each other. It was a time of experimentation, of finding out how far sound could be taken. So what could be more natural than LED ZEPPELIN, who had influenced other bands, now being influenced in turn by progressive sounds? It was clearly no accident: the albums that followed continued this progression.

LED ZEPPELIN IV was the band's high water mark, and one of the greatest moments in twentieth century music. Essential. Need you ask?

russellk | 5/5 |


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