“Led Zeppelin’s ‘Four Sticks’ as Recorded Proof That Rock Songs Shouldn’t Be ‘about’ Anything”

To be honest, I haven’t really looked at pitchfork.com in a while, finding a slight problem, mind you, with their tautologically identical paragraph lengths, for one thing. It’s like, really, Pitchfork, all your paragraphs are the exact same length, and stuff? 

I mean, it doesn’t matter, I guess. Sometimes all the paragraphs on your entire website are the exact same length, ya know? It could happen to anyone. 

Anyway, by foregoing this rather tyrannical music criticism website, I’m likely sidestepping what was probably one of the most grotesque music-criticism rubrics I’ve ever seen, which was, appropriately, in the immediate stead of BLM and Me Too, the idea that a song being “about” something contributes to its artistic synergy, and, conversely, the sentiment that a lack of a lyrical message obviates artistic deficiency. In specific, I remember Kamasi Washington, around this same time, in fact, making the remark that Trump entering office had no effect on his music because politics “has no influence on how I show love to my brother,” or something along those lines. He makes instrumental music, people. 

Kurt Cobain, for all his revelatory, Satanic vituperation, made repeated emphasis of his opinion that “lyrics don’t matter,” apparently. Well, in the case of “Four Sticks”; the lyrics perhaps matter in that they prove themselves as nonsensical, ergo ensuring us that they actually don’t matter. But if they didn’t exist, we could never be completely sure of their uselessness. 

Ahem. Let’s start talking about music here. “Four Sticks” is an incredibly interesting song on Led Zeppelin IV for many reasons, one being that, as far as I can recount, it’s the only song on IV, and the first song in Zeppelin’s catalogue, up to this point, to institute an unorthodox meter, something that would later become somewhat of a staple for the band on “The Crunge”; “The Ocean”; “Kashmire”; ad infinitum. “Four Sticks” gallops along (named thusly because John Bonham actually played with four sticks on the track, per legend) in five/four time, somewhat like a rubber-armed reincarnation of PJ Harvey playing with the drummer from Galactic. 

The reason why I mention the meter employed in “Four Sticks” is that, I think, it helps to imbue the song’s incredible sense of horror. “Four Sticks” is a piece of music which conveys a very distinct, specific feeling, like making itself paradigmatic of a life subsumed in chaos, confusion, frustration and loss. It’s one of those songs you just sink into, an incredible jukebox selection (along with “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”; for its own part), and like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, edifies by way of seeming to represent all your worst fears rolled up into one groove, and nullified by a sort of musical vaccine. Robert Plant certainly seems like the least active force within this song, out of the whole band, whose semi-nonsensical plaints and pleas kind of remind me of a little kid coming across a mix and just not knowing any better than to blurt out the first thing that comes to his mind, all in soothing timbre and forceful emotion, in spite of itself. 


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