Sound — 10
From the moment the opening track The Song Remains the Same thunders through right til the fantastic closing number The Ocean's doo-wop finish, this album persistantly pushes the boundaries defined by Led Zeppelin's previous albums and consistently pumps out the great songs that they were known to produce. This is perhaps their strangest album, not easily accessable to new fans of the band and also one that divides the most opinions, with some claiming it's too weird and others (rightly) saying it's a masterpiece. Released in 1973 and following the more famous Led Zeppelin IV would not be an easy task for most bands, but Led Zep strut through it with powerful songwriting and a unique diversity to the likes they had never attempted before. The sound on this album is tight and clean on the afore mentioned Song Remains the Same but also ranges through fuzzy and dark on the sublime No Quarter, raunchy on The Ocean and sweeping in The Rain Song. It varies from track to track as most of the songs on this album are of completely different styles, from the folk-rock explorations of Over the Hills and Far Away to the reggae tinged D'yer Mak'er. John Paul Jones is also brought to the forefront as he hadn't been before with his use of keyboarded instruments, such as the piano and keyboard in No Quarter and the mellotron in the Rain Song. His bass playing is also key to the funky, James Brown-esque The Crunge, which would be a throwaway track if it wasn't for his contribution. The late, great John Bonham is also worth mentioning, again in the Crunge but also The Ocean for which he sings at the start, "We've done four already but now we're steady, and then they went 1, 2, 3, 4!", which really adds to the atmosphere of the whole track. Jimmy Page, who needs no introducion sounds fantastic over the course of the whole album and also was responsible for the sound, as he had produced it himself, with help from Eddie Kramer, Jimi Hendrix's former producer. His guitar work is also astounding on just about all the tracks, because he either drives the whole song with his famous riffs or provides a fitting backing. Page's soloing abilities have never been stronger between Led Zeppelin IV and this album because it was when he found a great sound but also before he had begun to get sloppy. For proof, compare How the West Was Won to the Earls Court concerts. On Houses of the Holy he sounds best on the Song Remains the Same, No Quarter and The Ocean.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics of Houses of the Holy are also diverse to go with the sound but also have hippy aspirations. Many of the tracks evoke hippy ideals such as unity, escapism and personal freedom. This is no clearer proven than in Dancing Days where Plant sings "I've got my flower, I've got my power". The end of the Crunge also shows his funny side when he has an odd but comical conversation with himself essentially, on whether he's "seen the bridge". The Rain Song is lyrically one of the strongest songs on the album and is also considered by Plant himself to be one of his greatest vocal performances for obvious reasons: he sounds fantastic, using his range to go from soft and quiet to passionate screaming. He also gives great swaggering performances in the Ocean and Dancing Days as well as a deeply melodic take in the impossibly catchy D'yer Mak'er. Another vocal worth mentioning is the soulful No Quarter which fits in perfectly for the track. Lyrically, it's dark and mysterious which fits in perfectly with the keyboard work that drives the song. The Ocean however, is driven by Plant's performance, from the first verse to the fantastic ending, he sounds as though he's sitting comfortably on cloud nine with a glass of cherry in his hand and a microphone in front of him, singing about the good times.
Overall Impression — 9
The only other albums I would compare this to for consistency are Dark Side of the Moon and Who's Next because it takes you on a ride through many genres and styles without lingering or going too far off course. This is done by straight ahead rocking opening and closing numbers to remind you who you're listening to. It is hard to pick a "best" song on the album because it's all done so well, but notable highlights are the ones that became concert staples. This includes the Song Remains the Same, the Rain Song (which were more often than not played one after the other because of the great link), Over the Hills and Far Away, No Quarter and The Ocean. This is probably the most underrated album in the Led Zeppelin catalogue because of it's awkward position, in between Led Zeppelin IV and the double album Physical Graffiti, which are both frequently lauded as their best works. It is also more difficult to access becuase of it's diverse sound. It takes a few persistant listens before the album grows on you, as it did for me. I now say it's my favourite Led Zeppelin album and also one of my favourite albums of all time. In that sense it's achieved cult status, because the few who love it, really do whereas others keep to themore famous songs on it. If it was stolen, I'd be slightly pissed off but I have two copies, by sheer chance but would probably buy it again just in case. I suggest to anyone reading this: buy it, steal it, find it or download it and enjoy.