Review Summary: Over the hills and far away...
Houses of the Holy is kind of weird. Ok, so Led Zeppelin. Everyone knows them. They’re one of the most acclaimed and innovative bands of the 20th century with numerous classics under their belt. Chances are, even if you don’t listen to them, you’re at least aware of some of their biggest hits. ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Kashmir’. All that good stuff. Heavy hitting snarling blues rock that still kicks to this day. Their first four albums were rooted heavily in blues and folk and are considered some of the best albums ever recorded. But then there’s Houses Of The Holy, the album that had the impossible task of following up their untitled fourth album. Did it succeed in surpassing one of the most successful records of all time? Let’s see.
Houses of the Holy is something of a divergence from their early work. Sure, LZ3 was more of a folk album than a hard rock record, it was still rooted in their style. While it did throw some people off with its change In musical direction, it still liked well by fans. HoTH is a bit like LZ3 in that it’s an album that tries to mix up the group’s formula while sticking to a concrete sound. There’s still classic pounding hard rock (‘The Ocean’, ‘The Song Remains the Same’) and folk (‘Over The Hills and Far Away’) but here the Led embrace the ever growing giant of Prog Rock (‘The Rain Song’, ‘No Quarter’) Which they only flirted with on LZ4 and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Then they go completely left field and tackle funk (‘The Crunge’) and even reggae (‘D’yer Mak’er). Do these experiments work out fully? Sort of.
The opener: ‘The Song Remains The Same’ is classic Zep. Page and Bonham dominate the track with a tornado of lightning fast riffs and thundering drum fills while Plant weaves his vocals around the ensuing chaos. ‘The Rain Song’ is absolutely beautiful and showcases how the band could be genuinely soothing and gentle, guided by a sweeping mellotron string track, in comparison to their usual explosive bravado. ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’ is regraded by many as one the band’s best songs and it’s easy to see why, starting as a pastoral folk track piece before transforming into a juggernaut powerhouse. Then things start to dip.
‘The Crunge’ is bad. Very bad. Laughably bad. While the beat is steady and Jones’ bass playing sets a good groove, the song fails to go anywhere. Page’s aimless funk riffing quickly gets tiring and the annoying accordion like melody that beeps over the track bogs down the song even more. Plant’s lyrics, which have always been pretty hit or miss are pure tripe, amounting to nothing more than standard “I love my baby oh yeah” fluff. While the joke about the bridge near the end is a good chuckle, it doesn’t help the track rise up above sheer mediocrity. It’s dull, annoying and overall pretty bad. They don’t call it ‘The Cringe’ for nothing!
‘Dancing Days’ isn’t a bad song, far from it. Its riff is instantly memorable, but the rest of the band sound uninterested and restrained. While Page eventually does kick it into gear, the rest of the group come off as remarkably bored. It’s a shame really because the track that this replaced (the title track, which later appeared on their next record) is infinitely better. Then we have the ultimate deal breaker. The true love it or hate it song. ‘D’yer Mak’er’. It’s either a fun and carefree track or a complete cornfest. Fortunately I actually dig this one a fair bit. Bonham’s drumming is strong and the jumpy bass and tweaky guitar add an easy and chilled calmness to the song, bouncing off the heavy drums well. Lyrically it’s completely banal but otherwise, it’s actually a great little track. Things escalate once again with the Ambient Flavoured ‘No Quarter’, Which sports a watery spacey mellotron part which builds the track into an explosive and haunting finale. ‘The Ocean’, Which caps the record off features a thick chunky guitar riff and a weirdly lo fi sound (check out that echo!) to end the album on a solid high.
So, is Houses Of The Holy a good record. Hell yeah it is! The mix of otherworldly prog and rip roaring blues works spectacularly well and many of the tracks are classics for a good reason. But the middle of the album? Eh not so much. ‘The Crunge’ is complete dire straights and ‘Dancing Days’ is pretty boring in all honesty. Still, the rest of the album is solid and more than stand ups to their other work. If you’re new to Zeppelin I wouldn’t recommend starting here, but it’s certainly a must hear regardless and it only helped the band climb even higher in popularity. Suppose that’s the wonder of devotion