Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy (1973)

From donignacio.com

18afa7ad743a2b03e57e301a50a67f318de1192eThis is one hell of an odd record. It sounds like Led Zeppelin were attempting to take themselves into a more prog-rock direction, but they weren’t too sure how to go about it. The album opener “The Song Remains the Same” starts out sounding like it’ll be another butt-whomping heavy metal classic, but instead it sort of wanders around with a bunch of Who-style power chords without ever going anywhere. It’s fun to listen to for sure with the possible exception of that slowly paced drunken bit where Robert Plant starts to sing. I wish that they would have brought some sort of distinct atmosphere or emotion in the mix, but they didn’t. It’s just an ordinary, barely above average guitar song in the end.

Although “The Song Remains the Same” isn’t the album’s best example of prog-rock. For that, you needn’t look further than “No Quarter,” which to my surprise does contain its own special atmosphere and texture. It begins quietly and creepy with rubbery keyboards, which sound to me like it’s illustrating some sort of swamp. (I hope I’m not the only person who thinks of a swamp… Sometimes I feel like I’m in a psychiatrist’s office describing inkblots when I talk about music…) The guitars and drums slowly pick up, and they’re awesome of course. Eventually Plant starts to sing, and he does it with some real subdued passion. Overall, that’s a brilliant song, and single-handedly made their prog-flirtations worthwhile.

There were also weird attempts at other sorts of music, most notably funk and reggae. The reggae “D’yer Mak’r” is one of my favorite bits here thanks to its memorable melody and fun instrumentation. The only main drawback (and not really a big deal to me) are the lyrics, which are pretty stupid even for Led Zeppelin. The funk outing “Crunge” is so weird that makes me think of an early Talking Heads jam session than actual Isley Brothers style funk. Perhaps that means its ahead of its time or maybe it’s just awkward because they didn’t know how to go about it. It’s interesting, though. The detached groove takes a little getting used to, and Robert Plant clearly had no idea how to sing to it. He’s just sort of squawking in a default bluesish sort of way.

When it comes to choosing my favorite moments of Houses of the Holy, I have to stick with the more traditional stuff. (I know, that’s hard to believe since I’ve always been claiming to not care for their classic style! Am I a Led Zeppelin fan, after all?) “Dancing Days” is a really butt-whomping mid-tempo hard blues with a catchy riff and a memorable vocal melody. I even like Plant’s vocal performance there, who is keeping himself (for once) from belting out extraneous “uh-huhs” and “baybuhs.” It even seems a bit alien to me, because some blessed soul is playing a strange off-key keyboard in the background.

Led Zeppelin nearly bested “Stairway to Heaven” with another ballad “The Rain Song,” which is one of the most beautiful things I laid my ears on. They brought out a Mellotron for that, and … wow, not even Genesis made that instrument sound so nice! Although to be fair Genesis and The Moody Blues made that instrument one tiny part of their overall landscape, and Led Zeppelin created a texture no more complicated than an acoustic guitar and a Mellotron. But what a pretty song!

I usually applaud a band that wants to experiment, and Led Zeppelin found a quite few interesting things in their attempt. I liked their funny reggae tune, and I really liked their full-on prog outing “No Quarter.” But some of the others come off as rather clunky and unexciting, which makes me wonder if they were just better off just sticking to heavy metal and ballads. Despite what I might have been insinuating in previous reviews, heavy metal and ballads aren’t a bad thing!

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March 3, 2013 - Posted by | Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy |

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