A great album should sound like a great album. Cultural significance and “back in my day” justifications don’t equate with eternal musical merit. Plenty of "classic" records resonate in 2016, and though some might sound dated—whether this adheres to musical style, production, lyrical content, or a slew of sonic motifs—they possess creative endurance and craftsmanship that have defied time.
Try listening to Led Zeppelin’s eponymous fourth album without the lens of “creative touchstone.” If you’re a former bong-buzzin’ hippie, listen without the lens of “greatest rawwk record of all time.” If you’re over 40 and play throwback radio in your gas-guzzling SUV, and find yourself criticizing rap and hip-hop for being vapid, excessive, and misogynistic, then the levee can’t break soon enough.
I could slander the group for their blatant blues plagiarism, or for being pretty much undisputed sex criminals, but this is old public domain. It isn’t just that Zeppelin stole from musicians far more interesting than themselves, but that they did so with such flat-footedness. Shred enough big, ballsy riffs over and over, and yes, they become earworms. Page and Plant have chops, but they can’t write sound songs to save their lives.
The formula: Pick some good pentatonic runs, and play ‘em until bled dry of all conceivable worth. The only break from Page’s rifferoni comes in frantic, masturbatory solos that now represent every cock-rock cliché reeking of the later half of the 20th century. Plant can wail, but he has virtually nothing to say save for a few half-assed innuendos and the occasional stab at being Tolkien lite. His voice has no subtler cadence or content, either; take a shot for every “ooo,” “ahhhh,” and “OH BAABY!”
Of course, the bollocks and bombast of these cavemen with technical prowess were what endeared Zep to so many. They hit hard, and didn’t mess around. They sounded great in stadiums, and seemed larger than life. But The Hermit will be 45 next month. Radio has blunted the power of more than half these tunes with gross overexposure. “Stairway to Heaven” is practically parodic. “Rock and Roll” is embarrassingly self-brandishing.
The real problem is that this record doesn’t have much left to teach us. Rock n’ roll as it stood in the 70s is dead, and if I hear another dad-rock troubadour tell me the “golden age” is due for a comeback, I’ll play frisbee with his Foo Fighters albums and tell him to look past his nose, left of the dial. Do we need the “Deluxe 50th Anniversary Remaster” at the dawn of the next decade? It’ll be courtesy of Jimmy Page himself, I’m sure. It’s been a long time since I’ve rock and rolled, and that’s just fine.
Sambo Chilton is a restless space cadet, writer, and musician residing in Ottawa, Ontario. He is currently finishing his second year in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College, as well as a number of short stories, essays, and ditties to hum while contemplating one’s puny mortal existence.