Sound — 9
With the band's massively blues-induced first two records, Led Zeppelin established themselves as a tour de force of the hard rock genre. However, with their 1970 third album, they took a 180 degree turn and dropped almost all of their blues roots. After the exhausting Led Zeppelin II tour, the band traveled to a cottage named Bron-Yr-Aur in the village of Gynedd, Wales, where they wrote the majority of the album. This is also perhaps the reason the content of most of the songs turned out drastically softer than anything the band had previously done. Sure, your signature Led Zeppelin rocker tunes are still here ("The Immigrant Song", "Out on the Tiles", "Celebration Day"), but throughout some of the first half and almost all of the tail end of the album, the band shows an immensely folk-induced sound. "Gallows Pole" is actually a Zep spin on an old English folk tune. The first half of the album focuses mainly on the more rocking tunes (with the exception of "Friends"). There's even a brilliant 7+ minute ballad thrown into the mix ("Since I've Been Loving You"), which, though it showcases each member's abilities the most equally on the whole album, showcases above all Page's brilliant solo improvisation. The second half of the album, however, is definitely the high-point of the record. "Gallows Pole" is a brilliantly-paced folk tune about how all of a man's family members come and try to bargain with the hangman to get him not to hang the main character, but nothing works. It starts off as a very slow acoustic number, but erupts into a foot-stomping hoe-down, and is something that only Zeppelin could've pulled off so gracefully. "Tangerine" is an exceptional country-esque number, that tells the tale of Plant's long lost love. "That's the Way" is about a young boy whose mom tells him he can't play with a certain young girl anymore, because "Mama said that's the way it oughtta stay". Page's desolate acoustic strums and distant ambient guitar fills make the song a haunting masterpiece. Then comes the foot-stomping "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" (an odd typo on the cottage Bron-Yr-Aur), which, between Page's maniacal fingerpicked acoustic strums & runs, Plant's wonderful harmonized verses, Jones' flawless acoustic bass walk-downs, and Bonham's incredibly simple but catchy bass & tambourine beats, make the song shine through as one of the highlights of the album (it's my personal favorite, anyway). Then comes the closer, "Hats off to (Roy) Harper", which has Plant's odd tremolo voice effects piping over Page's bluesy steel sliding guitar effects, in tribute to folk legend Roy Harper. It doesn't exactly provide an adequate album closer, but the song manages to still be pretty catchy.
Lyrics — 10
As with the musical content of this record as compared to the previous two, lyrically the band takes on different perspectives as well. "The Immigrant Song" talks about Vikings sailing and conquering foreign lands. "Since I've Been Loving You" puts Plant up front singing distraught and monumental verses about how he's tiring of his ever repetitious lifestyle. "That's the Way" is undoubtedly the lyrical high-point of the album, which describes hauntingly how Plant is forced to cut off his relationship from a young girl only because his mother tells him to, and how he has to confront her crying and tell her why. This is probably Zeppelin's second best album lyrically, right behind the wonderful mysticism behind the lyrics of the Houses of the Holy album.
Overall Impression — 10
If I told you that this album would be pleasing to the more rocking type of people, I might be lying a bit. The first half of the album has a few good rocking tunes, but if you're not too much into the folk side of things, you probably won't like this album as much. I personally view it as one of the band's best (it's in my top 5, no doubt), because it's such a brilliant blend of folk, rock, and even country. The album serves up a pretty ridiculous amount of diversity, especially for only having 10 tracks. But whenever I've got 40 minutes to spare, I can guarantee you I'll probably pop Led Zeppelin III into the CD player.