How “Led Zeppelin IV” Finally Wowed Music Critics


The feud between Led Zeppelin and the music press was well known by the time their fourth album was released in November 1971. It was, after all, the group that had been viciously battered on both sides of the Atlantic – particularly in America. Each of their first three LPs provided just one new opportunity to throw some damning verbiage at Led Zeppelin.

But that changed, at least a little, in late 1971 and early 1972.

The critics came, suspiciously in some cases, but with a more positive outlook than what they had brought in droves to previous albums. There was some coverage, but there was also a sense of acceptance that Led Zeppelin wasn’t going anywhere – nor his enthusiastic audience of potential readers. There was also perhaps a sincere, if at times reluctant, appreciation of the music.

The Led Zeppelin IV the packaging was known to be a reaction (or major) to the review, with no official title, no photos or indication of who it was, and no valuable information once the shrink wrap was removed. Led Zeppelin wanted music to exist on its own terms, and those terms have proven to be acceptable to many critics – though few have recognized that “Stairway to Heaven”, in particular, has the makings of a modern classic.

The most striking change in tone came from Rolling stone, who had been particularly savage towards Led Zeppelin since his debut in 1969. Critic Lenny Kaye was himself a musician, and therefore perhaps more sensitive to the virtues of the album. He called the fourth album “their most consistently good release” to date, praising “the great variety of the album: out of eight tracks, not one walks on another’s feet. , who tries to do too much at once ”.

“Led Zeppelin – a band never particularly known for their tendency to underestimate things – produced an album remarkable for its understated subtlety and good taste,” Kaye wrote. “The dinosaur walk that paved the way for their epic first outing has seemingly gone, taking with it the splashing electronics of their second effort and the leaden acoustic moves that seemed to weigh down their third.” Nonetheless, Kaye was happy to report that Led Zeppelin’s “adrenaline rush” remained intact and praised “Robert Plant’s incredibly lively and precise vocal dynamism, and some of Jimmy Page’s most precise arrangers and producers have yet found their way to do it “.

Billboard detached Rolling stonepraise, call IV a “powerhouse” and saying it “offers all the gaming and selling power of the other three blockbuster packages.” Heavy cuts include “Rock and Roll”, “Misty Mountain [Hop], ‘Going to California’ and ‘Black Dog’, all of which will put the package at the top of the charts. ”Meanwhile, Stereo review called it “good listen … beautifully performed and recorded … a glorious elaboration of a style now fully developed and defined in the same way as Puccini Turandot is the last great star fossil of 19th century Italian opera. “

Playboy advised his readers to “call him Led Zeppelin IV“and felt that” the real mystery here is that old Zepp got so good. The band eventually turned their own brand of tacky high volume into great rock, and it’s not all high volume either. “Climbs into the realm of seriousness – entering into madrigals, however, and quasi-poetry – and does so without even stumbling. ” Hit Parder similarly stated that “finally Led Zeppelin produced an album which is almost the equivalent of their potential”, recovering from the “utter disappointment” of Led Zeppelin III.

Circus“The review leaned into ‘the schizoid nature of Led Zeppelin”, concluding that “if you don’t mind suddenly changing your mood from heavy to soft, and vice versa, you should find this set relatively satisfying.” In Brittany, Sounds straddling a line, reckoning that “this might not be their best album” but calling it “still on a higher level than any other UK group of the sensory overload type”. New Musical Express adopted a similar tact, writing that “this is their fourth and not their” best “or” their worst “” while viewing it as “a good new album from a band that can now come out of a controversy that s ‘spreads like a cluster around the new success. “

NME has also sided with the loud side of the ensemble – “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll” in particular – now that “the full-shout Zeppelin sound is most satisfying.”

Those who panicked Led Zeppelin IV at the start were also not immune to the error of their ways. A decade later Voice of the village critic Robert Christgau admitted he had “stupidly rejected” it and upgraded the album from an initial B to A. “This is Led Zeppelin’s definitive album and therefore heavy metal”, wrote Christgau. “It proves that both are – or can be – an integral part of ‘Rock and Roll’.”

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