Review Summary: Zep's most consistent and least annoying album, with great production and great songs from a band with too many blunders in their career to count.Houses of the Holy
is my favorite Led Zeppelin album. Get this- it's an innovative and forward-thinking hard rock album from 1973 that represents the band as one who wouldn't plug in the same stale formulas and chug away! It's one that doesn't get carried away in its self-indulgence and actually seeks to detach themselves from the scene's clichés, and it's also their most eclectic album in a concise 40 minutes. It's their album that annoys me the least and their only one I consider above-average, and I guess it would be their best given the strong selection of individual tracks and how it's more innovative and interesting than the others, even in its pitfalls.
Houses of the Holy
contains many of Zep's greatest songs, and in a band where they only have a small number of genuinely great tracks, this album has the highest concentration of great songs. "The Rain Song", "No Quarter", and "Over the Hills and Far Away" are three of their best songs.
"The Rain Song" wasn't their first endeavor into progressive rock, but it's their best attempt at it, holding a great atmosphere and featuring a well-executed climax; the brushes of Page's acoustic guitar are also really great, and it's one of their only ballads that doesn't divebomb into cheesy ***. "No Quarter" infamously sounds like nothing they previously did, escaping the boundaries of rock into something that dwells more in its Mellotron than it does in rock n' roll, and when the band actually gets quiet and holds that tension for a few minutes, it works out really well. "Over the Hills and Far Away" is one of their classics that's the closest to their earlier material the album will reach, and it's great; it's very well-composed, even in hard rock's limits, and the acoustic guitar blends in extremely well with the thumping electric guitar's riffs. It manages to be tame, but not too tame where they're not afraid to rock (the solo, mainly), and it's actually kind of uplifting. Plant's vocals actually help the song instead of hindering it for once, and the structure and everything about it just works out really, really well.
There are other worthwhile moments outside those three though, even if they're not as interesting. "The Ocean" has one of my favorite guitar riffs of all time, and the groove leaves a much better impression than the likes of "Black Dog" and "Rock n' Roll", mainly because it doesn't attempt to be some kind of all-out cock rock anthem and appears modest with a modest groove. "The Song Remains the Same" is a great album opener, their best one to date, that kicks the album off with a lot of energy and pretty cool guitar riffs. But also, that transition between that storming riff into more psychedelic and airy territory is something they didn't do that often, and it works out really well. It's an upbeat and genuinely warm album, great for the late summer and early autumn, and the guitar chords-whether acoustic or electric-sound inviting and actually fun here. This song goes through a variety of changes in its structure, but it works out really well here. The solo isn't necessarily tame, but still enjoyable without verging into stale extravagance. "Dancing Days" has an okay riff and generally gets along well, and it's an acceptable transition in between the album's two worst tracks. I like it how it gets on with a steady groove, but the guitar riff still brings in some sense of urgency and angst, which Plant's vocals reinforce to an extent
. And hey, he sounds pretty well here because he showed restrain-something he should've done more often.
And the remaining two songs? There are worse songs in the world, but these aren't good either. "The Crunge" might be a little fun if you're stoned or have never listened to funk before, but it's laughable. There isn't much of a groove, and it's almost pathetic that they thought it was a good enough idea to include on this album. Seriously, Physical Graffiti
was spotty and inconsistent, but at least a song like "Houses of the Holy" or "Trampled Under Foot" could have been more excusable here, especially when those songs were written during this time period. Yeah, it's bad because there isn't any groove and Bonham's technical beat falls flat when you realize that it's boring. "D'yer Mak'er" is their attempt at reggae, showing that Bonham doesn't know how to restrain himself outside of their ballads, already inconsistent as they are, and that he can't play soft when it needs it the most. I don't care if it was important in innovating the studio in rock music, because it still ***ing sucks, and it's even worse for getting Axl Rose into heavy rock.
But those are the only two songs I don't like. The rest are pretty good or great for reasons explained above. On a more fundamental platform, Houses of the Holy
has great production. The biggest thing in the production job is how the guitars sound. This sounds great for the spring, the summer, and the early autumn, primarily because the guitars sound so airy, so warm, and so bittersweet, and don't ever sound claustrophobic and overly thick like they did in Led Zeppelin [IV]
and plenty of other albums. Over the Hills and Far Away
is the best example here, as it sounds actually uplifting for once, but even the psychedelic bits of "The Song Remains the Same" or the loud, but fun, groove from "The Ocean"'s benefit from a great guitar tuning and relatively clean, but dynamic, production. And a song like "No Quarter" and some moments of "The Rain Song" would have sounded poor with their previous manners of production; for all the contemporary disdain towards IV
, the grotesque and overtly-compressed production rarely get the harsh end of the keyboard. Page not only showed more restrain and focused more on songwriting here, but I actually enjoy his riffs and solos because they don't annoy me. The rhythm section is still an active force, not sounding much different than before, but Plant's vocals are also far less grating and obnoxious here than on any other release. Yes, even their self-titled folk album sounds more annoying than this.
There are two blunders here, yes, and there are only three songs I truly care for, but given that its consistency rate is about 75%, higher than any of their albums by far, I'll call it a great album. It's not something I play often besides the occasional spin of "The Rain Song" or "Over the Hills and Far Away", but it's a very well-made hard rock album from a time where the genre felt flat most of the time. Ignore the two failures and take the rest and you've got the most consistently entertaining and least offensive Zep album.