Friday, 16 January 2015

Led Zeppelin - the debut album - review

My music habits tend to go in "cycles", and I will get away from listening to certain bands or artists for a period of time before organically, naturally almost, returning to their work. In recent days it has been the turn of Led Zeppelin to receive my renewed attention.  Their debut album, released in 1969, still shines like a beacon due to its primal energy and its powerful immediacy. It is probably my favourite Led Zeppelin record, along with the 1975 double-album Physical Graffiti.

This release has probably endured better than most of the group's other efforts, and I think this is because of its exuberantly "live" feel.  There is a freshness, almost a naivete, about it, possibly a consequence of this being their first disc. The music exudes a rawness born of the newness of the combination, as if they hadn't yet had the time or the opportunity to over-complicate matters or burden themselves with various pressures. The sound itself possesses a clarity and a vitality which they never again quite replicated.

Of the individual musicians, all shine, but Robert Plant excels, and producer Jimmy Page admirably captures the vocalist's qualities. Some of the songs do suit his singing style - "How Many More Times" and "Dazed And Confused" spring to mind. Indeed his voice rarely sounded so dynamic and strong again with Zeppelin.  John Bonham's prodigious ability is also a prominent feature, and the fact that these two newcomers to "the big time" perform with such assurance and confidence is a major factor in making Led Zeppelin such a convincing work. The studio and musical know-how of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones is also crucial, of course.

The predominant styles which dominate the album are blues, folk and folk-rock. The blues-rock element is a continuation of the direction in which The Yardbirds had been heading.  The folk/acoustic side would be a feature of the Zeppelin sound until the mid-1970s, a fact often overlooked by the band's detractors. Page and Plant's interest in folk music, and the American West Coast sound, combined with the general musical eclecticism of the band as a whole, would ensure the diversity of the track listings.

There is a pleasing and effective mixture of epic longer songs and shorter snappier numbers ("Good Times Bad Times", "Communication Breakdown", "Your Time Is Gonna Come"). The latter's vibrant organ-based introduction is one of the highlights of the entire set. The group's musical heritage is illustrated by as much by the inclusion of "Black Mountain Side" as it is by the presence of the two blues covers, "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby".

Led Zeppelin's musical output would grow more "sophisticated" and "polished", but rarely would it match the spontaneity and elan which is to be found in abundance on this, their first album.

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