Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Led Zeppelin

  • Led Zeppelin II [Atlantic, 1969] B
  • Led Zeppelin III [Atlantic, 1970] B+
  • Led Zeppelin IV [Atlantic, 1971] A
  • Houses of the Holy [Atlantic, 1973] A-
  • Physical Graffiti [Swan Song, 1975] B+
  • Presence [Swan Song, 1976] B
  • The Song Remains the Same [Swan Song, 1976] C+
  • In Through the Out Door [Swan Song, 1979] B+
  • Coda [Swan Song, 1982] B+
  • BBC Sessions [Atlantic, 1997] Neither
  • How the West Was Won [Atlantic, 2003] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Led Zeppelin II [Atlantic, 1969]
The best of the wah-wah mannerist groups, so dirty they drool on demand. It's true that all the songs sound alike, but do we hold that against Little Richard? On the other hand, Robert Plant isn't Little Richard. B

Led Zeppelin III [Atlantic, 1970]
If the great blues guitarists can make their instruments cry out like human voices, it's only fitting that Robert Plant should make his voice galvanize like an electric guitar. I've always approved theoretically of the formula that pits the untiring freak intensity of that voice against Jimmy Page's repeated low-register fuzz riffs, and here they really whip it into shape. Plant is overpowering even when Page goes to his acoustic, as he does to great effect on several surprisingly folky (not to mention folk bluesy) cuts. No drum solos, either. Heavy. B+

Led Zeppelin IV [Atlantic, 1971]
More even than "Rock and Roll," which led me into the rest of the record (whose real title, as all adepts know, is signified by runes no Underwood can reproduce) months after I'd stupidly dismissed it, or "Stairway to Heaven," the platinum-plated album cut, I think the triumph here is "When the Levee Breaks." As if by sorcery, the quasi-parodic overstatement and oddly cerebral mood of Led Zep's blues recastings is at once transcended (that is, this really sounds like a blues), and apotheosized (that is, it has the grandeur of a symphonic crescendo) while John Bonham, as ham-handed as ever, pounds out a contrapuntal tattoo of heavy rhythm. As always, the band's medievalisms have their limits, but this is the definitive Led Zeppelin and hence heavy metal album. It proves that both are--or can be--very much a part of "Rock and Roll." A

Houses of the Holy [Atlantic, 1973]
I could do without "No Quarter," a death march for a select troop of messenger-warriors, perhaps the band's road crew, that you can tell is serious because of the snow (when they're working up to big statements it only rains) and scary sound effects. But side two begins with two amazing, well, dance tracks--the transmogrified shuffle is actually called "Dancing Days," while "D'Yer Mak'er" is a reggae, or "reggae"--that go nicely with the James Brown tribute/parody/ripoff at the close of side one. Which is solid led, lurching in sprung rhythm through four tracks that might have been on II, III, or IV, or might not have been, as the case may be. A-

Physical Graffiti [Swan Song, 1975]
I suppose a group whose specialty is excess should be proud to emerge from a double-LP in one piece. But except on side two--comprising three-only-three Zep classics: "Houses of the Holy," "Trampled Under Foot," and the exotic "Kashmir"--they do disperse quite a bit, not into filler and throwaway ("Boogie with Stu" and "Black Country Woman" on side four are fab prefabs) but into wide tracks, misconceived opi, and so forth. Jimmy Page cuts it throughout, but after a while Robert Plant begins to grate--and I like him. B+

Presence [Swan Song, 1976]
Originals and influentials they obviously are, but too often individual pieces of their unprecedented music aren't necessary. They didn't have time to get really silly here, so this is unusually consistent, but "Hots on for Nowhere" is as close as it comes to a commanding cut, and I prefer "Whole Lotta Love" and "Rock and Roll" and "Dancing Days." Nu? B

The Song Remains the Same [Swan Song, 1976]
List price: $11.98. Category: live double-LP masquerading as soundtrack album or vice versa. Full title: The Song Goes on Forever but the Road Remains the Same. C+

In Through the Out Door [Swan Song, 1979]
The tuneful synthesizer pomp on side two confirms my long-held belief that this is a real good art-rock band, and their title for the first ten minutes or so, "Carouselambra," suggests that they find this as humorous as I do. The lollapalooza hooks on the first side confirms the world's long-held belief that this is a real good hard rock band. Lax in the lyrics department, as usual, but their best since Houses of the Holy. B+

Coda [Swan Song, 1982]
They really were pretty great, and these eight outtakes--three from their elephantine blues phase, three from their unintentional swan song--aren't where to start discovering why. But despite the calculated clumsiness of the beginnings and the incomplete orchestrations of the end, everything here but the John Bonham Drum Orchestra would convince a disinterested party--a Martian, say. Jimmy Page provides a protean solo on "I Can't Quit You Baby" and jumbo riffs throughout. B+

BBC Sessions [Atlantic, 1997] Neither

How the West Was Won [Atlantic, 2003]
Solid live versions, curious guitar extravaganza, dire drum solo, ace covers ("Bring It On Home," "Whole Lotta Love"). *

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