Friday, September 14, 2007

No. 149: Houses Of The Holy

Band: Led Zeppelin
Album: Houses Of The Holy
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Coming off their masterpiece fourth album, Zep expanded their sound quite a bit. Straying from the hard rock and blues-based stuff they'd done, the record moves from genre to genre. Also, a classic album cover.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not a cohesive album by any means and the genre-shifting is hard to take, certainly. It's not Zeppelin as we know it and I can't only imagine fans in 1973 thinking it a bit odd to hear Robert Plant imitating James Brown ("The Crunge").
Best song: "The Ocean" is classic Zep, but "Dancing Days" is my favorite song on the record.
Worst song: Nothing is really terrible, but the opening suite of "The Song Remains The Same" and "The Rain Song" are mostly just show-offs for Page's guitar work.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty great.

One of the benefits of this project is -- like the joy I experienced in listening to the Dr. John record for the first time -- enjoying Led Zeppelin again. My friends make fun of me because I don't care much for Robert Plant's voice (story here), but as a fan of wonky prog rock, there are some aspects of that in Zep's middle period. They really tried to expand what they did, moving away from the standard blues/heavy metal template of their first three records.

"Houses Of The Holy" shows the band at its most experimental. Building off "Stairway To Heaven," the first two songs on the record are the similarly sprawling. "The Song Remains The Same's" quick-tempoed guitar riffing is a tribute to Page's skill as it movements work in and out of his soloing. "The Rain Song," however, is more romantic-sounding. A love ballad, the song is accented by Page's acoustic guitar and John Paul Jones' mellotron. Page considers it his finest vocal performance on tape, as well.

(These two songs are famous -- maybe infamous -- for being the suite wherein Page used the Gibson EDS-1275. The double-neck guitar has taken on a Spinal Tap-ish feel after the band's 1976 concert film/fantasy mindfuck "The Song Remains The Same.")

"Over The Hills And Far Away" is classic Hobbit-inspired love nonsense, though it features some of Bonham's best drumming. "The Crunge" is considered a tribute/homage to James Brown, but it kind of gets to mocking Brown towards the end ("Where's that confounded bridge?" being the final spoken line). Still, it's amazing the musical dexterity the band shows on it. The mythology of "D'yer Mak'er" is pretty well-known (here's Plant discussing it in a radio interview), though it is the same dexterity on this one. "Dancing Days" is my favorite song on the record and is a classic non-hard-riff-based Zeppelin song. "No Quarter" is similar to the first two tracks on the record, though it is much more overt in its D&D nonsense. Finally, "The Ocean" finishes the album in classic Zep style: Big riff, big beat and wailing Plant.

"The Ocean" is really the only Zep-sounding song on the record. The pounding drums, the wailing spider-monkey voice, the rolling bass and the heavy riffing are all there on the band's tribute to their fans ("The Ocean" is an ocean of fans).

That's not to even mention the awesome album cover:

All in all, "Houses Of The Holy" is a great Zep record. While its not the fourth album, it's probably the second-best one.

No comments: