Anyone who wants to take themselves half seriously as a rock and roll fan has an appreciation for Led Zeppelin. That appreciation can swing anywhere from absolute, lifelong devotion, to a brief high school infatuation, to an academic respect for the mechanics of what Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham produced while redefining rock music in the 60s and 70s. I think I can take myself half seriously as a rock and roll fan.
I think I have a more than casual knowledge of the genre’s history and its seminal moments. I think I can listen subjectively enough to know when something is good, even if it doesn’t tickle my particular fancy. But despite several attempts, I’ve never been able to get into Led Zeppelin. Probably because I may have only ever tried via Best Of compilations and random songs that somehow ended up in my iPod. So now, it’s time to give them the chance I know I should have years ago, by listening to an album in its entirety. And that album is II.
When your sophomore album opens with a song that will go on to be one of the most enduring, certified classic rock songs of all time, it’s a good sign of things to come. Whole Lotta Love is one of those songs I’ve heard countless times over the years, and even as someone who’s never felt compelled to dig deep into the Led Zeppelin catalogue, this is a song that refuses to ever feel played out or overdone. The riff, the chorus, the weird little percussion breakdown, the even weirder Robert Plant vocal and Jimmy Page guitar road out of that breakdown. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most enduring, certified classic rock songs of all time.
Lacking the focus of Whole Lotta Love, What is What Should Never Be is a little more rambling, a little more loose and a lot more underwhelming. Plant’s vocals are as impressive ever, but the lack of any sort of direction in the song made it feel more like a B-side that never quite got worked out in the studio.
The blues swagger that they co-opted so well is on full display in The Lemon Song. 12 bar blues, ramped up to be louder, a little faster and full of cock swinging swagger, it’s a great showcase of what everyone in this band did best. Except maybe for Bonham, he’s surprisingly restrained (obviously saving himself for the drum odyssey Moby Dick to come later), letting Plant’s blistering voice, Page’s screaming guitar and Jones’ rolling bass take the limelight.
Things turn a little soulful, with hints of psychedelia on Thank You. It’s an interesting shift from the balls out rock I expect from Led Zeppelin, but I’m not sure if it’s interesting enough. There’s crooning, a touch of funk in the bass work and moments of quiet that definitely display plenty of range in their arsenal, I just couldn’t help hoping the whole time that the next track would be more of a rocker.
And I’ll be buggered if it doesn’t deliver in my hopes with Heartbreaker and Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman). Two songs I’ve heard hundreds of times before, just never knowing their names. They’re both up there as greats with Whole Lotta Love for all the same reasons as II’s opener.
Considering I’d never listening to II until now, it says a lot about the quality of this album, it’s long life and it’s influence that I knew more than half of the tracks on it. Few albums have that sort of massive impact on the world at large. Michael Jackson did it with Thriller, AC/DC did it with Back in Black and now I know that Led Zeppelin undoubtedly did it with II. It had some high expectations to live up to, and it delivered.