It’s a guilty secret that’s not especially secret: everybody likes reading a really nasty review every now and then. And equally, as a critic, there’s a perverse pleasure in writing such a review, in being able to sink the boot into an album that you truly despise. The thing is, though, sometimes we get it wrong. All critics have penned pastings that they’ve subsequently regretted (although some critics, it has to be said, are more prone than others to inserting both feet in their mouth simultaneously). And sometimes, when critics get it wrong, they get it spectacularly wrong — so in the spirit of our feature last month on scathing early reviews of classic novels, here’s a similar look at some gloriously misguided reviews of albums that’d go on to be acclaimed as classics.
Led Zeppelin — Led Zeppelin
The critic: Rolling Stone’s John Mendelsohn
This review pissed off Jimmy Page so royally that he refused to speak to Rolling Stone for years, a fact that would cause the magazine much consternation throughout the ’70s as Led Zep bestrode the world like tight-trousered, mudshark-wielding commercial colossi. Still, you can’t blame Page for taking offense to this — amongst other things, Mendelsohn calls Robert Plant “as foppish as Rod Stewart, but he’s nowhere near so exciting” and lambasts the guitarist as “a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs.”
The nastiest bit: “In their willingness to waste their considerable talent on unworthy material the Zeppelin has produced an album which is sadly reminiscent of [the Jeff Beck Group’s] Truth. Like the Beck group they are also perfectly willing to make themselves a two- (or, more accurately, one-a-half) man show. It would seem that, if they’re to help fill the void created by the demise of Cream, they will have to find a producer (and editor) and some material worthy of their collective attention.”