Sacred Cows is an occasional series in which NME writers question the consensus around revered albums and artists
When I go for an expensive meal, I don’t want more side order vegetables than steak. At the cinema, I don’t want more credits than film. So as the NME office quakes to the sound of ‘Celebration Day’, the live album from Led Zeppelin‘s O2 reunion show in 2007, I’m left increasingly baffled as to how this tiresome band’s plodding, self-indulgent arse gravy has managed to creep into the realms of respected classic rock.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like a good solo. Joey Santiago is clearly a supernatural hyper-wizard from a far wonkier dimension than our own. Matt Bellamy’s fingers must’ve been beamed down from Planet Acewiddle. But alongside virtuosity and melodic panache, a great solo displays restraint, doesn’t outstay its welcome. Except in Led Zeppelin’s world. Here’s a live album that’s approximately 80 per cent solo, 18 per cent aimless jam and two per cent actual song. Yes, Jimmy Page can play the guitar. The question is, can he stop?
The live album merely serves to reinforce my feelings about Led Zeppelin – that they’re the worst excess of over-rated prog blues wank in rock history. They’re credited with inventing heavy metal (although ‘Helter Skelter’ arguably pipped them to that) but the shroud of black magic and mysticism that surrounded the band in the 70s was a smokescreen to disguise the fact that they were merely pomped-up, cock-fixated blues hacks recycling stolen riffs and hooks and plagiarizing willy-nilly from old blues, rock’n’roll and folk records like copyright laws were beneath them – “you only get caught when you’re successful, that’s the game,” said Plant after being caught with his hand in Willie Dixon’s lyric jar.
Yes they came up with some ass-annihilating riffs in their time, but – especially live – they’d often swamp their finest licks in extended trad jams, nails-down-blackboard whining and proggy pastoral wafts, dragging the burgeoning 70s hard rock explosion back into the hackneyed improvisational habits of ancient jazz and blues. The noxious ‘art’ of padding out arena gigs with tedious extended plank-spanking sections sprang from this period, and Zeppelin were at the forefront of making this mass wastage of precious audience lifespan acceptable. Their albums were tighter but, to these ears, no less dreary: walloping wads of muddy blues/folk rock that stared ever backwards at a time when so much more intriguing music was looking towards a glistening pop/punk/disco future.
Heavy rock crunch? The Who and Black Sabbath did it better. Glam-era glamour? Give me Bowie or Bolan any day. Tothis day, it’s only the rock’n’roll mythology of Led Zeppelin – the red snappers, in-room motorbikes and occult rituals – that keep their memory in any way interesting or edgy, and even these were ripped off the likes of Keith Moon, Robert Johnson and The Rolling Stones. Strip the myths away and you find that everything saggy, overblown and boring in rock music is Led Zeppelin’s fault – hardly a cause for celebration.