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Led Zeppelin | II | Retro Album Review

Atlantic Records
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When listening through II, one thing stands out: every song is remarkably similar to the one directly before and after it. At the album’s initial release 50 years ago, it was this aspect that kept it away from major critical success—even Rolling Stone gave it mediocre reviews. Now, with half a century between then and now, the tracks on this record have become the backbone of the Led Zeppelin repertoire. Yes, the tracks are similar, but hindsight reveals that it was in this record that the band truly came into their sound.

What is that sound exactly? It’s lead singer Robert Plant’s banshee screams in “The Lemon Song.” There are the slamming electric guitar riffs in tracks like “Bring It on Home.” Improvised solos like the rhythmic drums in “Moby Dick” define their sound. Some songs can have all in one, and some can highlight one while the rest (loudly) take the back seat.

It’s here that Led Zeppelin stretched their listeners’ attention. Songs begin pounding, like “Whole Lotta Love.” Right out of the gate, there’s swooping electric guitar, met by Plant’s powerful range, blended perfectly by the slamming drums. Just when the same chords and patterns begin to repeat again and again, the song simplifies into an experimental ambient bridge, leaning heavily onto one element at a time. Again, the track does one thing for a comfortable amount of time until each independent piece rejoins. 

Each building block of Led Zeppelin’s best-known elements are rearranged for each track. There’s a guarantee of each element, the order and emphasis of each is subject to change. Yes, that does create a rather uniform album, but it does what Led Zeppelin needed to rocket to lifelong stardom: everyone can identify a Led Zeppelin song now. The formula is known and loved, starting 50 years ago, and likely to last at least another 50 years. 

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