Now listen here: Once upon a time there was a band called Led Zeppelin, and they laid down more barbaric heavy metal riffs than anybody, ever. They came from the land of ice and snow, and produced a Hun-like din, and if you heard them approaching your castle walls the wisest move was to flee via the back door. Guitarist Jimmy Page seemed to possess an inexhaustible repertoire of battering ram riffs designed to smash through castle gates, and what he couldn’t turn to splinters John Bonham, his catapult-fisted drummer, could. There was nobody quite like them when it came to the employment of brute and unremitting force, and there never will be.
But in case you haven’t noticed there are no Huns rampaging across the countryside raping and repining, haven’t been for centuries. Because nothing lasts forever, and so it went for Led Zeppelin, who officially disbanded in December 1980, several months after Bonham died from asphyxiation of vomit following a day of supernatural drinking (four quadruple vodkas—and that was just breakfast!).
Led Zeppelin’s first six LPs are unimpeachably great; the debate over quality arises only in relation to their final three albums, one of which (1982’s Coda) was a collection of unreleased odds and sods from sessions that took place years before. Me, I’m primarily interested in their final studio LP, 1979’s In Through the Out Door. Critical reaction was at first lukewarm at best. Over the years, however, there has been a reappraisal, with many a critic eating his words. So which is it? Led Zeppelin at their best, or worst? Or somewhere in that vast middle ground, where the bustle in the hedgerow is just the spring clean of the May Queen?