Led Zeppelin III
Atlantic Records, 1970
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/17/2005
If the music scene today should teach us anything, it would be to appreciate artists that take risks. Now don't get me wrong - such bands still exist today, but it seems to me that quotient is noticeably lower. One doesn't hear Britney Spears or 50 Cent go out on a limb and completely redefine his/her sound. Thank God bands like Led Zeppelin did.
Zeppelin's first two albums were absolute monsters; it's hard to think of a better one-two punch than those two works. That is why III doesn't get as much respect as it should. How could it possibly follow the previous two masterpieces? But Zeppelin, in their own way, went out on a limb and laid the foundation for future albums. I daresay III has more in common with IV and Houses Of The Holy than I and II do.
It was here on III that Plant, Page, Jones, and Bonham began to experiment with different sounds and styles. One can hear the seeds of "Kasmir" being planted with "Friends." The abstract, distorted eclecticism of "Hats Off To Roy Harper" would be focused into "When The Levee Breaks." The problem is that these first efforts don't measure up to their successors. "…Roy Harper," has always been one of my least favorite Zeppelin tracks; I hear it as the band saying, "this proves we're really serious musicians willing to explore." That sentiment should be conveyed subtlety, not screamed.
Where Zeppelin really shows off their "maturity" is on the second half of the album, with the acoustic numbers. "Gallows Pole," "Tangerine," "Bron-Y-Aur," and "That's The Way," are more effective than anything else on III, save the classic "Immigrant Song." I would argue that the acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin used on "Gallow's Pole" is one of Zeppelin's finest moments. Not many rock bands would take the initiative and create such unique sounds. "Bron-Y-Aur" gets in your head and doesn't leave for a long time. Both "Tangerine," and "That's The Way," are touching, with the former invoking a country vibe that is quite refreshing, and the latter with some gentle pedal steel guitar that simmers underneath the main track.
Led Zeppelin III easily gets my recommendation; I mean, with the exception of one album, their entire catalogue is stellar. What it comes down to is how does it stack up with their absolute greats? I'm going to come down more on the glass-half-full side of things. Yes, the band would take what went right on III and run with it, but the actual quality of the music remains high. Just think if Zeppelin hadn't gone this route, who knows what they would have sounded like. We could have ended up with 5 or 6 clones of Led Zeppelin II. However, Page and co. took a chance, and it paid off handsomely.