Houses of the Holy
After the intensity of the music and the rapid release pace of their first four albums, Led Zeppelin relaxed for Houses of the Holy, their most satisfying album. It’s their most diverse, careering through a James Brown pastiche, a slice of reggae-pop, full scale progressive rock, and even a catchy rocker with an seamless a capella interlude; pretty much everything but the psychedelic blues they specialised in just four years earlier. It’s also full of beauty; John Paul Jones shines with his mellotron and keyboard work and Jimmy Page piles on layers of chiming guitars.
Like every other Zeppelin album, Houses of the Holy has its quota of below-par tunes, but the par level on this album is higher than usual, and even the throwaways have their share of melody and charm. Actually melody doesn’t play an important part in ‘The Crunge’, but it’s effective enough as an amusing James Brown pastiche. Also clustered in the centre of the album are ‘D’yer Maker’ (say it out loud), a fun reggae tune, and ‘Dancing Days’, a harmless but tuneful piece of pop/rock.
It’s the other five tracks that bookend the album that all rank as Zep classics. Opener ‘The Song Remains The Same’ has a battalion of guitar overdubs from Page and an evocative melody, while ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ reiterates the mystical folk/hard rock contrast that made ‘Stairway’ so great and is one of Led Zeppelin’s most overlooked tunes. It’s the two ballads that are perhaps the album’s standout pieces: ‘The Rain Song’ is drenched in Jones’ beautiful mellotron, while “No Quarter’ is another tour de force dominated with Jones’ atmospheric keyboards, a great Page riff and evocative lyrics about Vikings. ‘The Ocean’ is just a great straight ahead Zeppelin rocker, except that about two thirds of the way through it breaks into a bizarre a capella doo-wop section, before effortlessly dropping back into its groove.
If anything, Houses of the Holy feels less significant than the quartet of albums that preceded it; it’s less focused, and has a lighter atmosphere. But all this only helps to make it a better listen; it’s full of great songs, none of which are among their most overplayed, and it captures Led Zeppelin at their most accessible.