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Led Zeppelin - Houses Of The Holy CD (album) cover


Led Zeppelin


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3.91 | 867 ratings

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4 stars It's tough to say what exactly happened, but for album number five, Led Zeppelin decided to make an album completely unlike anything they'd made before. I don't think it's necessarily that the band was looking to become more diverse as a whole; were that the case, they would likely have made further "experimental" albums subsequent to this, whereas they immediately went back to "basics" on their next album. It's possible that the band had looked around and seen that prog-rock was the big fad of the day and wanted to try its hand at it, but whatever happened, the band pushed itself in directions for this album that it would never pursue again.

For the first three tracks, this seems like one of the best things that the band ever did. The opening track, "The Song Remains the Same," sounds very much like the band trying to do a Yes song (don't laugh; what do you think the band was listening to in 1972, the commercial hey-day of British prog rock?), and I think they do a pretty good job of it. I can actually see somebody disliking it for much the same reasons that somebody would dislike a mid-70's Yes rocker ("Roundabout" or "Siberian Khatru," for instance); it doesn't have any real, "tangible" emotional kick to it, and it's relatively lacking in "conventional" structure (though I wouldn't say it has none; there is a melody buried in all of the ruckus, and the acceleration near the end just seems like the perfect capstone to the song). Personally, though, I think it just sounds amazingly cool, and that's enough; the layers upon layers of speedy ringing electric guitars give a sound unlike anything else in the Zeppelin catalogue, and Plant's sped-up vocal delivery is at least novel enough not to irritate it me as much as it might some others. And man, I might just be a sucker for little cool moments like this in general, but I'll be hornswaggled if that "da-da-da da-da-da DA da-da-da da-da da-daa..." part in the middle doesn't grab me every time.

Up next is the utterly gorgeous ballad "Rain Song," featuring what has to be considered one of the best (if not the best) uses of mellotron among all hard rock and heavy metal bands of that era. There isn't really any melody, just a lot of acoustic strumming overlayed with electric guitar and various keyboards, but as a mood piece, it's utterly incredible. Heck, even Bonzo exercises delicate restraint and care (except for the "climactic" part, where he starts hitting hard as usual), and the end result is a track that really has no parallels (that I'm aware of) in classic rock. The following "Over the Hills and Far Away," on the other hand, has some resemblance to "Ramble On" in its feel and acoustic/electric mix, but it's far superior, with a playful acoustic opening and a terrific minimalistic solo within.

So after three tracks, it seems like Led Zeppelin branching out is one of the better decisions in the history of rock music; the band really sounds like it can do just about anything at this point ... and then they completely blow it over the next three tracks. "The Crunge" has some humor value, but as an earnest funk number, it's an utter travesty. To say Plant is obnoxious on this track is to say nothing, and the band is incredibly stiff in backing him up. Give me the Stones and "Hot Stuff" any day over this tripe. Then, flipping over to side two, we get "Dancing Days," which I've always hated and always will hate. Both the rhythm track and Plant's vocals on the song hurt me like a cluster headache (a pain that can best be compared to a giant icicle stabbed through my eye-socket). And then there's "D'yer Maker," which is one of the lamest attempts at reggae I've ever heard, and inexplicably the song from the album that seems to get the most airplay (it's things like this that explain why I completely swore off listening to classic rock radio). Gee, guys, thanks for offsetting one of the best three-song stretches in your catalogue with one of the worst three- song stretches in your catalogue.

Fortunately, the band is at least nice enough to follow this string of futility with one of the best songs they'd ever do, the Viking epic "No Quarter." I actually once disliked it, mostly because of the vocals (for some reason, I always ended up picturing Kermit the Frog singing when I listened to it), but I was a moron. The song is a fantastic, dark, mythical sounding piece, with everything you could want out of such a number. The ominous, muffled vocals and the growling, menacing guitar riff are amazing, but it's really the keyboards that make the song (Jones again). Somehow, everything just comes together, and I just can't help but think of a giant viking ship coming out of the mist in all its silent power and glory. There's wind, there's water, and more than anything there's cold. It would actually get even better live, strangely enough, but this version is just jaw- dropping.

And finally, there's "The Ocean," which lots of people love but I only sorta like in this incarnation (the middle a capella section is the best part, as far as I'm concerned). In summary, then, there are four great tracks, one okay song, and three I'd just as soon never hear again. Truth be told, I probably shouldn't give this more than a high *** (come on, I could live without ever hearing half the tracks on here again), but then again, the best songs tend to be really awesome (and longer than the bad ones), so I guess a low **** is fine for it. I can understand loving it (I adored it at one point before I realized I hated "D'yer Maker" and "Dancing Days"), but that's not really a sentiment I can completely share.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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