Robert Plant has never been the most thoughtful or prolix of lyricists, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that he fluffs one of his lines in the opener of Led Zeppelin’s fourth official ‘live’ album, Celebration Day. As one of rock’s definitive vocalists, he could have been forgiven for this blunder, were it not for the fact that he fails to cook up the old magic of citrus-infused yore.
But how could we blame him? The cochlea-shattering decibel levels Plant used to hit are the preserve of a younger singer, forcing the sexagenarian to wander the country-folk avenues of his 2007 duet with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand. Celebration Day, however, is the document of the 2007 O2 concert whose tickets were applied for by a staggering 20 million people; a concert whose most useful function is to forcefully remind us how monolithic history’s greatest rock band once were.
This album is not of much use to those who own the eight original studio albums; there’s nothing from In Through the Out Door or Coda here, and the versions of all the songs on this album (except the astonishing “Kashmir”, in which Plant finally delivers a couple of memorable moans) are bested by their original counterparts. The band’s best ‘live’ album remains their first: BBC Sessions, which documented barnstorming sets from 1969 and 1971. Why? The acoustics. On How the West Was Won, and especially on Celebration Day, the gut-wrenching Page–Bonham CRUNCH that made Zep so unbelievably powerful is lost to the winds, leaving us with a low rumble powered largely by John Paul Jones’ reliable bass-plucking. And if you’re wondering why I’ve been putting the word ‘live’ in inverted commas, it’s because Jimmy Page can’t resist ‘correcting’ Zep’s live albums ex post facto.
Page is remarkably on-form, and Jason Bonham almost lives up to his father’s legendary reputation (no-one has ever been able to approach the power of John Bonham’s skinsmanship, but Jason has a stab at it, dropping in some identical drum-fills to the ones in the original tracks). Despite the excellent playing, however, you should probably stick to the studio albums and the incandescent BBC Sessions.