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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II CD (album) cover

LED ZEPPELIN II

Led Zeppelin

 

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3.91 | 646 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I HATE THE PRODUCTION ON THIS ALBUM. Whereas a large chunk of my love for the debut was based in how awesome it sounded, the way it was so much heavier than anything else to that point but still didn't excessively overwhelm the listener with that fact, a large chunk of my relative dislike (relative, mind you; I am still giving it a rating of "very good") of this album comes from the fact that I can barely listen to this without getting a headache. Apparently, this was recorded while the guys were on tour, and the result is that the mix is very raw and very heavy on the low end. Everything on the album, even the relatively "light" acoustic-based numbers, is saturated by screeching guitar sounds, basslines too high in the mix, drums trying to wake the dead, and wailing cock-rock vocals that (imo) sound ever so slightly worse and more obnoxious than they did on the debut. For a metalhead, this may sound like heaven; for me, there's just a little too much grit here for my tastes.

As an aside, though, while the bass sound may hurt my ears on the whole, the great irony is that the actual basslines on this album are not only my favorites on the whole in the Zep catalogue, they also put this album into my imaginary "top 3 bass guitar albums I've ever heard" list (along with Quadrophenia and Fragile). There's really an incredible mix of power and grace to be found throughout here, and if it's true what I've been told that budding bassists tend to swear by this album, then more power to them.

So anyway, on this album, Led Zeppelin stretches out its songwriting chops far more than on the first one, with more "complete" originals here than before, and this yields mostly positive results. That is, with one major exception; the headsmashingly awful (and I don't think I'll ever change my mind on this) ballad "Thank You." Now, granted, one major clunker on the second album isn't something to be completely ashamed of; on their second album, for instance, the Rolling Stones were still writing boring pieces of slop like "Congratulations" and "Good Times, Bad Times" (absolutely no relation to Zeppelin's). But still, man, this is bad on every level, from the unengaging strumming melody Page comes up with (compare this with what he had to work with on "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You") to the incredibly primitive lyrics ("happiness, no more be sad, happiness, I'm glad") to the fact that the very notion of a sweet ballad written by Robbie to his wife in 1969 while he was on the road and Zeppelin was the biggest band in the world is utterly laughable. As far as I'm concerned, this is the father of every half-assed semi-acoustic ballad that future metal bands would write to try and fool their audiences into thinking they have a "tender" side, and it's hard for me to not hate the song because of that.

The other original material is mostly fine, though, and that even includes the ballads. What is and "What Should Never be" is an extremely lovely number (with a terrific bassline serving as the best feature) that features a lovely Plant delivery and a GORGEOUS quiet Page solo. Of course, it also includes a bunch of "rocking" passages with Robbie screaming his head off that kinda spoil the impression a little, but only a little a bit. "Ramble On" is in much the same vein (and in fact its main feature is also a cute bassline mixed very high), with Plant's obsession with Tolkien coming out more explicitly, but it's still a nice little number, even if Plant starts getting on my nerves near the end.

The most famous and important parts of the album, though, are the three heaviest originals. First, there's the infamous "Whole Lotta Love" (some of the lyrics are stolen from yet another Willie Dixon number; poor Willie), which has one of the most killer riffs Page would ever come up with, and booming drumming and powerful bass to go along with it. Oh, and that midsection of guitar squeals and erratic drums and Plant moans and wails that simulates a male orgasm. Sheesh. Whatever, the guitar solo that comes right after it is terrific, and the closeout section is fine, though I do kinda wish Robbie would shut up after a while (this desire re: Robbie is a common theme with me, so get used to it). It's a well- deserved classic, whatever may be.

The other two heavy originals come at the beginning of side 2, in the form of "Heartbreaker" and "Living Loving Maid." "Heartbreaker" may seem kinda dumb at first, but that simple riff, pounded out by Page and Jones in unison, will just eat into your soul whether you want it to or not, and even Plant sounds fine here (it's basically a harder blues-rock piece, and Plant treats it accordingly). The chaotic wanky guitar solo isn't amazing (I mean, I like sloppiness in small doses, but this is kinda ridiculous), but the band jamming coming out of the midsection is great, so I don't mind too much. And then, thanks to a bad end edit that practically requires classic rock radio to always play these songs back to back (I have never ever heard the one played without the other), we immediately break into "Living Loving Maid," a nice piece of up-tempo funk rock. It's dumb, yes, but dumb in a "Communication Breakdown" sort of way, so I like it.

The remaining three tracks fall into the "reworked blues" category, and my feelings are divergent on them. I'm fairly ambivalent in how I regard the closing "Bring it On Home," but the second half does at least half a nice enough riff (as the band morphs from the weird blues cover in the first half of the song into all out 60's metal mode), so I don't exactly dislike it. It just seems ... I dunno, kinda unnecessary after everything else. Anyway, I love "The Lemon Song," which is sort of a hodgepodge of elements from a bunch of the blues numbers they were performing on stage (Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" is especially prominent), and while I get tired of hearing Robbie's incessant "Squeeze my lemon" pleas on The BBC Sessions, it tends to work fine here. And boy do I ever love the basswork in this track.

"Moby Dick," however, is a drum solo, and something I could live completely without. The riff is taken from an old blues standard ("The Girl I Love She Got Long Wavy Black Hair," later found on BBC), and the structure of the piece is not only taken (almost completely) from Ginger Baker's solo "Toad," it's nowhere near as interesting either. I know that lots of drummers adore solos like this, but that's just further proof that metal drummers and I are living in totally different universes. The quality of a drummer, as far as I'm concerned, is manifested in the kind of rhythm provided when the rest of the band is playing; it has nothing to do with the amount of noise one can make while playing by oneself.

So what of it all? The truth is, I like most of the songs on here individually, and there's a small number that I love. But when I take into account the couple of songs I hate, the fact that all the rockers have that same head-splitting guitar sound and loud drumming, that even the ballads are somewhat spoiled by that sound, and that Robbie sounds way worse to my ears here than he did on I, there's no question that this has to get a noticably lower rating. Taken as individual songs, I might be able to call this a high **** instead of a low ****; as is, as a whole album, there's no way I can give this a higher score.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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