Led Zeppelin IV
Houses Of The Holy
Phase Two of the Led Zeppelin reissue campaign comprises two major titles from the group's arsenal — Led Zeppelin IV, the band's most successful commercial release and one of the best-selling albums in U.S. history, and the curiously funky Houses Of The Holy. As with the Deluxe Editions of Led Zeppelin I, II and III, both albums have been newly remastered by the band's mastermind guitarist and producer Jimmy Page and include a second disc of unreleased material.
You could say the fourth album without a real title earned its stripes because of "Stairway to Heaven." But the record's strengths come from several elements that have little to do with the song that defined the band for the masses. Page methodically unveiled a flurry of complex overdubs and drop-dead-dripping textures, maneuvering his vision to fruition on this record. "Black Dog," the album's opening track, gyrated with a stop-and-go arrangement that molded Page's shiny and sharp riff with Robert Plant's well-paced and screeching delivery. The energy shifts into overdrive with "Rock and Roll," another signature tune that would go on to sell Cadillacs. In one grand swoop, a mystical mood settles in, mandolins and acoustic guitars howl at the moon, and Plant and Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention exchange verses in the dramatic "The Battle Of Evermore." As if everything for this band climaxes during the fourth round, the first three songs meticulously set the stage for the album's magnum opus, "Stairway To Heaven."
The invincible keyboard work of John Paul Jones, weaving in and out of Page's smooth guitar lines, tastefully eases "Misty Mountain Hop" forward; four drumsticks and the powerful foot of John Bonham drive "Four Sticks;" the folksy meanderings of Page and Plant reveal yet another side on "Going To California" and the record closes out with the epic, "When The Levee Breaks." Listening to the second disc of previously unreleased tracks, the untrained ear may be hard-pressed to tell the difference. The eight songs from the original album are here, albeit with different mixes. A basic mix of "Black Dog" with the guitar overdubs does add to its immediacy, but the alternate mix of "Rock And Roll" is more difficult to peg. It doesn't get any easier from there. The Sunset mix of "Stairway To Heaven" is virtually indistinguishable, as is the alternate mix of "Misty Mountain Hop." John Bonham fans will probably get a kick out of hearing the drummer count the intro to "Four Sticks" and the instrumental version of "Going To California" is liable to bring out the inner Robert Plant in anyone within earshot. The UK alternate mix of "When The Levee Breaks" offers a few subtle differences, but you'll listen through it any way because it's just so damn good.
Two years after IV made the band the biggest in the world, Houses Of The Holy came along with eight more nuggets, just as satisfying as before. "The Song Remains The Same" and "Dancing Days" are both cast in the grand Zeppelin mix of Page's guitar intertwined with Plant's vocals, given a rock-solid foundation by Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones. Speaking of Jones, he gets his turn to shine as a keyboardist on "No Quarter," a song whose brilliance lies in its intoxicating languidness. Interestingly enough, the rough mix without vocals of "No Quarter" on the second disc of the Deluxe Edition seems to pick up a bit more steam on its last lap.
There are a couple left turns on Houses Of The Holy that initially gave some fans pause. "D'yer Mak'er," wreaking of reggae in both its title and tempo, became the album's single, peaking at Number 20 on the Hot 100. "The Crunge" takes on funk in a tongue-in-cheek send-up that has Plant in search of a confounded bridge. "Over The Hills And Far Away" and "The Rain Song" are two keys numbers in the Zeppelin canon that accurately outline the diversity in Page's guitar work. The unreleased mixes of seven of the album's eight songs on the second disc offer bits and pieces of flavoring that, in some cases, may require a more concentrated run-through. The guitars are definitely brighter on "The Rain Song" because the original piano track probably meshed a little too well. Outside of that, you'll undoubtedly score big time if you tap the Plantless versions of "The Song Remains The Same" and "Over The Hills And Far Away" at your next karaoke get-together.
While the two-disc Deluxe Editions of Led Zeppelin IV and Houses Of The Holy, as great as they sound, don't bring a whole lot to the table with regards to juicy unreleased tracks (outtakes and unreleased songs are what the fans really crave), there are plenty of options in the configuration department. A Super Deluxe Boxed Set of each includes the two CDs, plus the original on 180-gram vinyl in a sleeve replicating first pressing, and the second disc on 180-gram vinyl in a sleeve with new alternate cover art. It's rounded out with access to a high-def audio download of everything at 96kHz/24 bit and an 80-page book filled with rare and previously unseen photos and memorabilia. Which ever way you go, Zeppelin fans will want to add this to the pile and cross their fingers that the reissue of Physical Graffiti drills down a little deeper.
~ Shawn Perry