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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin III CD (album) cover


Led Zeppelin


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3.93 | 908 ratings

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4 stars Perhaps feeling they had started to pigeonhole themselves with the incessant brain- bashing heaviness of II, the band took a roadtrip to Wales and made an album that largely emphasized the folk and acoustic aspects that had been present on their debut. The result was a fan favorite, and even I honestly felt for a long time that this was their best effort. Now, though, I'm definitely not among those who would think so, even if I've heard an interview where Plant says he feels this album is their finest moment.

The album is roughly split into a "hard" first half and a "soft" second half, with one acoustic song stuck into the first half for good measure. The first thing to note is that the "hard" numbers are nowhere near as suffocating as the kinds of hard numbers that made up II; you can definitely tell that the band really went out of its way to make this more "average listener"-friendly than II was, which probably wore down a lot of potential fans over its 40-odd minutes. Unfortunately, though, the hard numbers on here, on the whole, aren't as good as the best numbers on II. On the plus side, the album opens with the monstrously tight, fast and aggressive "Immigrant Song," which sounds more like a solid proto-punk-thrash number than a metallic rocker, and is all the better for it. Plant's voice is higher than it's ever been here, but it sounds good here, and the song only lasts about two minutes and change, so it's great. Also, the band does what is arguably its best blues number yet on this side, the terrific "Since I've Been Loving You." The melody is obviously stolen (though that's really the only place on the album where that can be clearly said; the band wrote most of its own material here), and Robbie tends to sound like an idiot when he goes on too long stammering instead of singing, but when he's actually singing, the track is pure gold. And man, that's one awesome guitar passage in the middle.

On the minus side, I have never been a fan of either "Celebration Day" or "Out on the Tiles." "Celebration Day" isn't exactly bad, but it's got such a, I dunno, "confused" feel to it that I just can't quite grasp what it is I'm really supposed to be getting out of it. It's just so messy that whatever driving power it was going for as a dumb driving rock song gets completely washed out, and it's not catchy enough to work as a pop-rocker or complicated enough to work as anything resembling prog. As for "Out on the Tiles," it's just too much like generic boogie-rock on one hand, and waaaaaaaaaaaaay too lightweight on the other, for it to particularly impress me.

This leaves the acoustic numbers, which I tend to like for the most part. The lone acoustic representative of side one, "Friends," is one that I've found I tend to like more than many others do; yes, Plant's screeching is pretty over-the-top intolerable in places, but there's just something about the menace that comes from the mix of the acoustic guitars and the Easterny strings that I can't help but really enjoy. Of course, it's awfully similar to "As You Said" by Cream in terms of general approach, but at least the melody is clearly original.

Side two opens with three real winners in the acoustic ballad (or, in the case of the first, acoustic ballad into acoustic rocker) department, the only drawbacks to them being (a) they're way too similar moodwise and (b) Plant doesn't sound any different singing them than he did singing about Gollum and whatnot on II, meaning that the pretty melodies of these songs aren't exploited to their full potential. "Gallows Pole" is a reworking of a traditional Welsh folk that tells the tale of trying to keep a loved one from getting hung, and it works almost start to finish; it's only in the end, when the band is 'rocking out' a bit and Plant is trying too hard to improvise new screeched lyrics, that the song starts to run out of gas. "Tangerine," completely written by Page, is even better, though, featuring a wonderful melody with a terrific little rising snippet here and there and a WONDERFUL gentle steel guitar solo. And finally, we have "That's the Way," which has some "sensitive," kinda immature lyrics that Plant still can't quite sing in a convincing manner (see: "Thank You"), but they're better than on that disaster (as is Plant's peformance), and that is one heck of a beautiful melody they came up with. Just get somebody else to sing it and you'd have a classic; as is, it's still close.

The last two songs don't really cut the mustard for me, though. "Bron-yr Stomp" is supposed to be traditional folk, but this song tells me that Led Zeppelin had about as much business doing straight-up traditional folk as The Byrds had attempting to do hard rock (see: Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde, arrgh). Holy cow I think it's obnoxious. And finally, "Hats Off (to Roy Harper)" is a goofy attempt at a blues cover a la the first half of "Bring it on Home," but where that at least started rocking in the second half, this is such a mess that all I'm really left with is a sense of, "huh?" It works as a novelty, but not much more, I'd say.

Still, for all of my relative complaining, I don't want to give this less than ****. The album flows extremely well, the balance between hard and soft is admirable (even if the songs in each category aren't necessarily), and some of the songs are great. And doggone it, it's a thousand times easier for me to listen to this one straight through than it is for me to listen to II straight through, even if that one has some better songs on it. Still, though, I wouldn't run out and get this first.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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