Sunday, April 10, 2016
HOUSES OF THE HOLY
Representing a massive creative step forward, Zep's fifth saw the "blues" subtly muted in favor of experimentation. There are one or two missteps into genre-hopping, though the other tracks make you forget about that.
Carrying the torch passed from power-trios-with-a-singer (their template being The Jeff Beck Group), Zeppelin upped the ante considerably. Having multi-instrumentalists who play everything equally well is especially fortunate.
Despite this, astringent sarcasm generally crept into any critical evaluation of this band while they were active. "A limp blimp" was one of many dismissals of "Houses of the Holy", however difficult that is to imagine.
Hindsight isn't just for breakfast anymore.
Key to the strength of these tunes are the impeccable arranging talents of Page and Jones, Bonham's rock solid foundations and the instrumental prowess of all three. Plant's singing shows greater maturity and style.
"The Song Remains the Same" stands as one of Jimmy Page's finest creations. Multi-part 12 and 6 string overlays do battle with the bass over an almost prog like series of time changes. Exquisite textures color "The Rain Song" which strongly echoes Tony Iommi's employment of mellotron string parts in "Laguna Sunrise". Hard rock detours into "Moody Blues" territory here, though it has an extremely warm vocal track with Page using a Gsus4 (D-G-C-G-C-D) tuning.
Dynamic performances lift "The Ocean" and "Over the Hills and Far Away", which gave guitarists iconic riffs to chew on in garages for years (that samplers could rip in 30 seconds.) "Dancing Days" remains my personal favorite with four on the floor Bonham kicking the ass of an odd chord sequence. Page's mid-eastern flavored refrain is the icing on the cake. While "The Crunge" is a fun James Brown tribute, neither it nor the lead-footed butchery that passes for reggae in "D'yer Maker" should have been included. These musical practical jokes would have been much funnier on "Coda".
Led Zeppelin pursued their craft while flying well below the radar, shunning the glare of the media spotlight. Letting the music take precedence over personality, they didn't even appear on the album jacket. Below is a photo of Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland where the cover was originally shot.
What the band had left on the cutting room floor from these sessions represents a huge missed opportunity. Had "Houses of the Holy" (song) and "The Rover" been substituted for the weaker cuts, it would have been a perfect disc.
It's still very fine.