VINE VOICEon 3 November 2015
After riding high on the massive, unprecedented success of their first two albums and following tours, Zeppelin pulled back on the reins and gave us a third album of folk meanderings, mystic offerings to Gods, and a less abrasive approach. The band had taken some extra time to hone their song writing skills, move away from heavy blues standards, and begin experimenting with other sounds and ideas. Critics didn’t love the idea at the time, but the fans lapped it up and saw it as the sign of a hugely talented band taking their next logical step.
‘Immigrant Song’ opens the album in fairly typical style with booming drums, a tuneful riff, and some wailing vocals. We get tell from the opening lines that the band have taken a more mystical direction with Nordic nods and references. This is a short, simple verse chorus verse song which is forced along by that riff and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome wisely before concluding with a cymbal’s hiss.
‘Friends’ is a much softer affair features mostly acoustics, a cheeky climbing piece by page, eastern tinged strings, and some tambla by Bonzo. This one feels like a campfire song before a battle although the lyrics are more peace and love focused than war based, but we feel the band huddled together, plotting for some huge event while the darkness gathers around them. The structure is simply but avoids being repetitive, there is no chorus, and the songs gradually increases in speed and volume for the ending.
‘Celebration Day’ picks up the pace and opens with the final phasing notes from the previous tracks underneath some bizarre guitar sounds by Page. This gives way to a string bending riff, some over the top vocals by Plant who is on top form, and the usual racing beats we would expect by the bass and drums. This time we get a big chorus and a nice Page solo.
‘Since I've Been Loving You’ is a classic blues standard given the Zep treatment, and it ends up being one of their greatest songs. Each member plays their part to unbridled perfection- Page’s playing is soothing, fiery, flawless, Plant’s vocals are rarely more powerful and evocative, while the bass and drums come blasting at the exact moments. Of an often underappreciated album, this is the song many fans point to to prove otherwise.
‘Out On The Tiles’ is a near-average rock song by Zep- one of the reasons why this album isn’t seen as highly as others. It is still driven by a powerful riff, the overall rhythm is funky, and we get a catchy, if cheesy chorus. Great work by Bonham and Jones here and I think it simply gets forgotten due to being seen as a lesser version of their more famous riff songs.
‘Gallows Pole’ is an unusual song in the band’s catalogue, but a great one nonetheless. A variation on the folk song this one starts softly and slowly and builds gradually throughout until we get a stomping beat and some entertaining mandolin and banjo playing. Zep give the lyrics a darker twist in that the hero still dies even after the executioner gets some loving and money.
‘Tangerine’ calms the album down and may be their most beloved acoustic song. Opening with a false-start, we get a stirring chord progression which Plant sings over with his most tender voice. The song is given extra depth by the different string types, from Pedal guitar to electric blast for the solo and the country feel doesn’t feel intrusive.
‘That's The Way’ continues the softer side of the record with the band’s most gentle song, one of innocence and friendship. Bonham does not drum here taking away 99% of the band’s force in one swoop, while Jones plays mandolin alongside Page’s acoustics. The song is extremely relaxed and the band would often sit together and sway whilst playing this one live. The lyrics show the band’s peaceful side and cover their feelings on the environment, violence, and Vietnam protests. For people who only know the loud Zep tracks, this is a good one to show them another side.
‘Bron Y Aur Stomp’ features Bonham on the Spoons and Page letting rip on some fantastic acoustic playing. The song feels like a hoedown, with the band all stomping their feet together and possibly slugging down litres of moonshine.
‘Hats Off To Harper’ closes the album in bizarre style with heavy experimenting on Plant’s vocals making him sound like Lulu in a washing machine, and on Page’s slide guitar. A tribute to singer Roy Harper, the song’s blues melody and anger are often beneath the strange effects and cause many people to skip the song entirely. It’s an entertaining song but not one I would listen to often.
Due to the sharp shift in styles from their first two albums, many critics felt that the band had already peaked and were slipping away. There are a number of good songs in here which are deemed as average due to their similarities to other bigger, better tracks from the band. Even these have their moments and none of them are bad in any way. We still have some standout moments, one of their greatest epics, and their best acoustic songs. It may be more folk than blues, but the band would infuse both styles more clearly more their next album.