Released March 1973
Recorded at Rolling Stones Mobile Studio
This album was quite a departure from what had been before. The blues were left a long way behind now. It lacks the sheer raw blues power of both “I” and “II”, or the rock/folk diversity of some of “III” and “IV”, or indeed, the classic status bestowed upon the latter. Led Zeppelin were now rock gods and they saw fit to release a “big”, potent album full of long, intense tracks reflecting the majesty they now held, plus a few throwaway ones too, that showed that they could now mess around and record whatever they liked. The Beatles got like that on “The White Album”. Never a good sign. I much prefer the previous four albums to this. The sound is also very tinny and over produced on the treble side of things. Too many layered guitars. John Bonham’s drum sound is very harsh and stark. Yes, he was always loud, but on here he is too loud, lacking in any real subtlety.
1. The Song Remains The Same
2. The Rain Song
3. Over The Hills And Far Away
4. The Crunge
5. Dancing Days
6. D'yer Mak'er
7. No Quarter
8. The Ocean
The rocking “The Song Remains The Same” provides a rousing opener, great intro and pounding drum sound and some high pitched vocals about California sunlight. The highly orchestrated, strings of “The Rain Song” provides a change in direction. It meanders on a bit too long, to be honest.
There are still some classic Zeppelin moments, though, such as the moment that “Over The Hills And Far Away” kicks in with John Bonham’s always massive drum sound. “The Crunge” finds Zeppelin trying to be funky, with varying results. Plant sings “ain’t gonna call me Mr. Pitiful…”, however, he is a rock singer, and certainly no Otis Redding. Soul and funk he can’t really do. It’s ok though, but it does have the feel of something they laid down for fun in the studio as opposed to a “serious” composition. “Dancing Days” is another odd song, really. They seem to be trying to create a tuneful pop song. I would rather they just sang the blues. Both these are better than their embarrassing effort at playing reggae on “D’Yer Maker”, however. Like Plant could not sing soul. Bonham could not play reggae.
I guess after four virtually faultless albums they had earned the right to try their hand at other things. Fair play, but there is a bit of a hint of self-satisfied laziness about it all. Easy to say in retrospect, I guess. Who knows what they were thinking at the time. Maybe they just wanted to put out a lighter, less intense album.
Journalist Gavin Edwards said of the album:-
“The epic scale suited Zeppelin: They had the largest crowds, the loudest rock songs, the most groupies, the fullest manes of hair. Eventually excess would turn into bombast, but on Houses, it still provided inspiration”.
Not so sure about that, but I get his point. Certainly, reputations were restored with a familiar return to big-bodied, booming rock on “No Quarter”. Similarly with the insistent rock shuffle of “The Ocean”.
Overall, a patchy album.