Led Zeppelin II
Whole Lotta Love: Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album opens with the bass and guitar repeating the same catchy riff over and over. When Plant’s vocals begin occasionally Page’s guitar will buzz in and out like a lazy bee. Around 1:30 things slow down for some random psychedelia while Bonham solos. It’s annoying and distracting. I’m sure it’s supposed to represent sex or something. When Page’s guitar does his buzz thing again with an added whine this time, I feel like punching him out. Fortunately at 3 minutes Page decides to use his guitar for good and lays down a short, melodic solo. After the solo, the song resumes the pre-psychedelia tempo for a little bit before launching into a far too melodramatic breakdown. The song ends with Plant doing some weird vocal echos while the guitar, bass, and drums beat the signature riff like a dead horse. Now I know “Whole Lotta Love” is one of the most important hard rock songs of all time and whatnot, but honestly, apart from the catchy riff, it’s annoying and obnoxious. The psychedelia and two breakdowns detract from what would otherwise be a concise, kick-ass rock song. It drags on far too long, and by the time it’s over the hooky riff has wormed it’s way into your skull so deep you’re eager to hear the next track to flush it out. I’m not impressed.
What Is And What Should Never Be: One thing Zeppelin doesn’t do well is slow songs. Robert Plant doesn’t have the voice and Zeppelin’s instrumentals are boring otherwise. Much like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, “What Is And What Should Never Be” alternates between soft balladry and in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll, and just like before, it doesn’t work well. To make things worse, during the slow sections Plant feels the need to distort his voice to the point where he sounds like someone with down syndrome trying to sing underwater. Near the end Page’s guitar alternates between your left and right ear. At first it’s fun in a gimmicky way but quickly loses its charm. Once again, I’m not impressed.
The Lemon Song: Finally this album begins to show some promise. Page’s riff is the perfect balance between blues and rock. However, the real highlight here is John Paul Jones, who’s clearly showing off. At 1:30 things speed up and Page breaks out a jangly, weird sounding solo that becomes melodic as time goes on. Eventually the song resumes the riffs and tempo it established at the beginning. Halfway through the song Bonham and Page get real quiet so Jones can take center stage. Plant’s vocals are annoying as usual, but the innuendo of the song combined with Jones virtuosity is so distracting you don’t notice. During the last thirty seconds of the song, the band speeds up for a rather anti-climactic ending. “The Lemon Song” is a bit long and repetitive, but thankfully John Paul Jones bass improvisation makes the length worth it. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not spectacular either. So far Led Zeppelin II is a let down. Let’s hope the next track doesn’t continue the trend.
Thank You: Led Zeppelin II’s fourth track opens with quiet guitar plucking and organ playing. Finally Zeppelin manages to do a slow ballad right. Plant sings with dynamics and range appropriate to his voice. Page’s guitar is pretty, but the real highlight is John Paul Jones organ playing. Page’s guitar solo halfway through is very mellow and unobtrusive. The song switches dynamics between whisper soft and mezzo forte, but maintains intensity throughout. It’s a very pretty song. Exactly the opposite of what you would expect from Led Zeppelin. The song fades out early, tricking you into believing it’s ended before playing again for two seconds and then ending for real. I’m not sure what the point of the faux fade out was. It doesn't add anything. Overall, “Thank You” is a stand out track not only for Led Zeppelin II but also for Led Zeppelin’s discography. Proving that the heaviest band making music during the sixties also knew how to be gentle.
Heartbreaker: Finally! One of the few Zeppelin songs I liked before starting these reviews. “Heartbreaker” is not only the definitive Led Zeppelin riff but also contains one of the greatest guitar solos in rock ‘n’ roll history. Bonham and John Paul Jones are no slouches either, and Plant’s vocals don’t movie beyond his capabilities, which is pleasant. Page’s stand alone solo starts slow and eccentric, then gradually builds speed and complexity until it reaches a boiling point. After a solid thirty seconds of soloing, Bonham and John Paul Jones join in while Page continues to solo. Eventually Plant joins for the last thirty seconds of the song before the track abruptly ends. I’m not familiar with the final four tracks of Led Zeppelin II, so perhaps another track will prove to be better than “Heartbreaker”, but I doubt it. So for now, I’ll make the bold assumption that “Heartbreaker” is the magnum opus of Led Zeppelin’s 1960’s discography. Will the next track be able to carry the torch?
Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman) - Led Zeppelin Ramble On: The seventh track opens with some odd percussion backing up Page’s open chords. Plant’s vocals are grating, but his fantasy lyrics cover it up well. Like “What Is And What Should Never Be”, “Ramble On” switches between rocking out and soft melody, but the transitions are fairly smooth. Page’s guitar solo halfway through is a simple repeated arpeggio. After the solo, Plant drops some Lord Of The Rings references, making it clear that’s what the song is about. Somehow I find it hard to believe Frodo would listen to “Ramble On” during his quest to destroy the One Ring, but you never know. Honestly, the song is just average. The lyrics are interesting and Bonham and Jones are tight, but Page’s guitar work is boring and the song itself doesn’t go very many places. “Ramble On” is stuck in an odd limbo between soft and hard rock, never quite solidifying itself as either. While not a train wreck, hopefully the next track will bring back some lost momentum.
Moby Dick: “Moby Dick” is an instrumental track that fortunately remembers to keep a hook present during the begining. Jones and Bonham jam tightly while Page noodles around. A minute in everybody drops out while Bonham solos. The rest of the song is Bonham soloing, and honestly, it’s incredibly boring. Bonham randomly switches tempo and the whole thing sounds like a warm up exercise. Fortunately Jones and Page jumped in during the last twenty seconds to save me from falling asleep. I’m really disappointed. Bonham shows such a wonderful grasp of rhythm when he backs up the rest of the band that I was positive his solo would be interesting. Whatever momentum Led Zeppelin II has managed to build up to this point is completely lost. Will Led Zeppelin’s sophomore effort end on a positive note, or will they fall flat?
Bring It On Home: Led Zeppelin must really love Willie Dixon because “Bring It On Home” was also written by him. Plant is clearly trying to imitate somebody during the beginning and it sounds retarded. Fortunately near the middle Zeppelin infuses their trademark sound into the blues standard and the song really begins to take on a life of it’s own. Although “Bring It On Home” is more interesting than their other blues tunes, it’s still mediocre at best. For one of Led Zeppelin’s heaviest albums, the ending is about as anti climactic as you can get. All of the energy Zeppelin has built up abruptly dies as Plant adopts that stupid blues voice and mumbles something while the rest of the band weakly plays their instruments and dies out. I never thought I’d say this, but I wish Plant would have stuck to his normal voice. He doesn’t have the skill required to imitate.
While not as strong as their debut, Led Zeppelin II is a good album. The low points are lower than Led Zeppelin I, but the high points are higher. While Zeppelin’s experimentation doesn’t work more often than not, they’re clearly exiting their comfort zone and trying new things, to which I have nothing but applause. It’s an over hyped album and far from perfect, but solid enough to earn a three out of four.
Editor's Note: Missed the first part in Clay's epic Led Zeppelin journey? Bone up here.