Wednesday, December 30, 2009

CD Odyssey Disc 72: Led Zeppelin

I am off this week, so no car listening. Instead, I reviewed this album on my cordless headphones while painting a figurine (Evil Cleric pictures to be posted when I finish him).

It was weird not listening in the car, but painting is an activity that allows me to concentrate, so I think it is a good approach. Besides - I make the rules around here!

Disc 72 is...Led Zeppelin II

Artist: Led Zeppelin

Year of Release: 1969

How I Came To Know It: I got into how I came to know Zeppelin when I reviewed Vol I back at Disc 27, so I won't repeat a bunch of that. Basically, at the constant positive reinforcement from the many Zeppelin fans I know, this is the third album I've bought, and the latest.

How It Stacks Up: I would put this album second of the three (I, II, and IV) that I have.

Rating: 4 stars.

Because Zeppelin II is a more recent purchase of mine, it hasn't got a lot of heavy listening, so I went through this one two times back to back to really get the groove in my mind. I was once again left with a deep appreciation for Zeppelin's musicianship, but also once again lacking an emotional connection to many of the songs.

I do like that they keep their albums to a reasonable number of songs - in this case 9. I think part of that is to the power of vinyl. Modern bands take note - if you have 15 songs, save a few! As an example, Zeppelin II is their second album within a single year (1969). Maybe they saved a few - you can too!

I also like that unlike Zeppelin I, the band for the most part makes the songs only as long as they ought to be, and don't just play for the sake of playing. It makes for a tighter, more professional sounding record.

Part of what makes this band so great is they are so tight, they could play almost anything and make it sound good. Part of their problem is that at times I think they do just that. The noodling is less of a problem on II, but they still manage to go overboard in places where it doesn't make the song any better.

Case in point - "Whole Lotta Love". This is a classic riff, that when you hear it you know it right away. Moreover, it MOVES you. The song has a strong groove, and is for the most part finely constructed and superbly played. In short, a classic.

Yet, right in the middle, the band decides to put a 2 minute noodle-fest with all kinds of weird stereo effects (very noticeable on the headphones). I'm not 100% sure what is up here, but having seen Nick's DVD of them playing, I know part of it is Jimmy Page doing weird stuff on the guitar, and getting off on the whacky sounds it can make.

Note to Jimmy Page: That stuff is really cool in the studio, but it takes a 5 star song and turns it into a 4 star song.

I know what you're thinking - did I just call out Jimmy Page on "Whole Lotta Love"? And the important thing to remember is that yes, I did - but not to his face. To his face I would say, "Thank you for all the wonderful music, Mr. Page. I wish I could play the guitar."

But I digress.

Moving on, my favourite tracks on this album are the ones where Zeppelin lays down an incredible riff, and just lets it grow into an incredible song. "Heartbreaker" and "Ramble On" are particular favourites.

I do also really like "Moby Dick". This song is the exception that proves the rule; John Bonham's wild solo actually makes this track better. More Bonham, less Page playing his guitar with a violin bow!

"Ramble On" will be familiar to Tolkien afficianados as the song with the weird references to "Lord of the Rings" that don't make any sense. At one point Robert Plant sings about how he met a fair maid in darkest Mordor, but she was stolen away by "Gollum and the Evil One." Hey, Robert! Gollum didn't work with Sauron - he was captured by him, and I'm pretty sure neither of them stole your girlfriend.

I know what you're thinking - did I just call out Robert Plant? Yes, but again the important thing to remember is that it is OK for me to call people out on literary references; I am a trained professional. Also, it wasn't to his face. To his face, I'd say, "Mr. Plant - you sing really great, please apologize again to Jimmy Page about the "Whole Lotta Love" thing. Also, do you find those jeans you wear uncomfortable, or too comfortable - on the video footage it is hard to tell which it is, if you take my meaning."

Anyway - Zeppelin II - a classic album, where they mostly keep their noodling in their pants.

Best tracks: Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Moby Dick and Whole Lotta Love (minus the weird middle part).


Sheila said...

"Thank you for all the wonderful music, Mr. Page. I wish I could play the guitar."

That made me laugh out loud. Well done, sir!

Chris said...

Just catching up now...

My own feeling is that this is the strongest Zep album. It is not my favourite, curiously. That honour lies with Presence. II is just behind that.

The correct answer for best track is actually "What is and What Should Never Be" but thanks for playing.

sherylyn in yummyland said...

I adore this album front to back, and hearing Heartbreaker on the radio when it's not immediately followed by Living Loving Maid is just wrong, they are so well-segued. If that's a word.

Calling out both Jimmy and Robert? Oooh. You are badass.

Joel C. said...

It is only within the past year and a half that I have bought all of the Zeppelin Studio Albums (except Coda). Prior to that I owned the 'Early years/Latter Years' compilation. It's taken me a long time to love Zep...but love them I do. In my opinion, they are an album band...while the singles are great, for me, the gold lies in the album tracks. I agree with Sherylyn about 'Livin Lovin' Maid' and I also agree with Chris on his assessment of Led Zep II...but so far, my favorite album is 'Houses of the Holy'. I just can't get enough of it...