Led Zeppelin III
Atlantic Records, 1970
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/30/1999
If there is any one studio album in Led Zeppelin's catalog that seems to be the most maligned, it is their third album, released in 1970. After two albums of bombastic rock and lightning-tinged blues, Jimmy Page and crew were suddenly throwing an album at their fans where almost all of the previous roads were left unwalked.
It seems like only in recent years have some people been able to appreciate what Led Zeppelin was trying to do on Led Zeppelin III. If anything, this disc was a sign of the direction the band would work to the best of their advantages on discs like Physical Graffiti - and I can't remember anyone rip that album that badly.
All of this said, Led Zeppelin III is good, but is a disappointment - not because the band didn't follow the same musical patterns they did on their first two albums, but because the music doesn't always hold up as well. Still, there's more good than bad that I hear.
One quick criticism, totally unrelated to the music: This is an album that must be experienced on vinyl just for the wheel you could rotate in the cover. It's just not the same looking at a flat CD booklet, knowing that I can't help to shape the artwork. Maybe someone can look into restoring the CD packaging to the album's style?
It would be wrong to say that Led Zeppelin totally ignored the roots they laid down. "Immigrant Song" is a two-and-a-half-minute blast of adrenalin that seems to speak volumes for everything that Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham had accomplished to that point. It might be suffering from overexposure these days, but it's still a killer track. If anything, it might be time for some people to rediscover "Out On The Tiles" for the same kind of vibe.
And the blues are just as vibrant on Led Zeppelin III as before; just listen to "Since I've Been Loving You" as proof. Page's stacatto guitar solo is incredible; it might not be the neatest guitar work in the world, but it makes up in emotion what it lacks in organization. Frankly, I'll take that any day.
I think the heads of listeners started turning on the track "Friends," which is a bit of a departure for Led Zeppelin in that the focus is less on bombast than it is on melody. It's not a terrible track, but it's very much a first stab at the style. They would accomplish it much better on tracks like "Kashmir" and "Down By The Seaside".
If "Friends" was the first shoe hitting the floor, the other shoe smashed down with a whisper on side two of the vinyl - or, for the CD generation, track six. The entire second half focuses more on the acoustic side of Led Zeppelin, and allows the band to break out into new musical styles for them. Some of these experiments work ("Gallows Pole," "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp"), some fall short of the mark ("Tangerine," "That's The Way") - and some of them are way out in left field ("Hats Off To (Roy) Harper"). If you don't know who Roy Harper is, go dust off Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, and listen to the vocals on "Have A Cigar".
It's not that acoustic Zeppelin was unheard of; "Black Mountain Side" and "Thank You" had each touched on the subject. But to hear country overtones in some of the songs I think scared the hell out of some people. To me, it just doesn't sound natural, and is thankfully a portion of Led Zeppelin's history that was quickly left behind.
There's no denying that Led Zeppelin III is a mixed bag, and this could well be the most subjective album of their career you'll listen to. Is it as bad as some people would like you to believe? Absolutely not. There's plenty on this disc to celebrate, and to listen to over and over again. But is it a masterpiece? Sadly, no - though I do believe it's something that Zeppelin had to experience to lead them to their glory days that made up their untitled fourth album.