Led Zeppelin's fifth studio album, Houses of the Holy is the first non-numbered album (depending what you call Led Zeppelin IV). So far we've come to expect nothing but classic tune after classic tune from our boys from across the pond so I have to say, after looking at the track list and for being the first time listening to this album, I'm interested to see what Led Zeppelin will bring to the party for the fifth outing - whether it's more of the same or more of an experimental good time.
Opening up Houses of the Holy is the song "The Song Remains the Same," which is a title that doesn't quite capture the more instrumental heavy first track with a bit of vocals spread in for good measure. I love Page's guitar riffs John Paul Jones' prominent bass lines which, on their own, get the opening track a score of 4, but without more subdued vocal track from Plant, I just can't give it a perfect 5. After a more subdued but musically superb second track where the production quality really stands out, we're welcomed by our first classic tune from the fifth compilation of tracks, "Over the Hills and Far Away." I love Jimmy Page's clean strumming guitar over a shining example of great bass playing leading into Plant's vocals. The solo, to no one's surprise, is a fun dual guitar riffing good time. Everything from the first note to the last chord is a masterpiece. Of course, the first half of the album wouldn't be complete without the funky bass lines and swinging time signatures found in "The Crunge." Going into this album, I was thinking what an odd name for a song that was, but now that I've heard it, I now completely understand. Where is that confounded bridge anyway?
Leading off the second half of Houses is the recognizable riff, but overall less well known track, "Dancing Days." Another great new tune with a bit of a Hawaiian flare and featuring Plant's fantastic vocal acumen is difficult to correctly pronounce by just looking at the title, "D'yer Mak'er," which I have no clue what that means. Regardless, it's another recognizable Zeppelin song and as some of the Brits would say, a stonking good time. Probably the most surprising (pleasantly so) addition is the almost instrumental "No Quarter," adding synthesized keys and some piano along with a good amount of distorted guitar. It's an auditory pleasure or, as Kevin Smith (Silent Bob) would say, an Ear-gasm (Pete calls it an Aur-gasm). Closing out the album is the equally enjoyable "The Ocean." All in all, I didn't think I would like any albums better than Led Zeppelin IV, but I have to say, Houses of the Holy is quite the enjoyable experience and takes over as the top album reviewed so far.
As for the 'everything else' songs, "No Quarter" is the rare instance of a song that is good, but is out-shined entirely by an inspired cover, in this case by prog-metal deities TOOL. "Over The Hills And Far Away" could perhaps be considered traditional in its sound, but the number of distinct themes spread over the five minutes have me put it in the "other" category. Along with "Bring It On Home", "Hills" is a rather hidden Zeppelin gem that sits firmly in my top rotation from now until eternity. The weird, zydeco-reggae-slow-jam that is "D'yer Mak'er" is easily the most unique song on the album, and a second listen through makes me wonder why I didn't give it a 5, while "The Crunge" is unique in a kind of unsettling way, as Robert Plant channels his inner performance artist to – as far as I can tell – complain about a bridge.
Overall, Houses of the Holy has the great feature that it is just as good listening straight through as it is skipping around or taking in only a song or two at a time. Variety and solid songwriting, along with some very memorable melodies and, quite simply, some memorable sounds, made for an enjoyable return listen, and many of the songs will see a bump in my iTunes playlist going forward.