29 November 2014

Robert Plant - Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar

For some people, this is not the album that they wanted to hear from Robert Plant.  For a lot of people, the album they wanted to hear is another one with Messrs Page and Jones to relive their youth.  They do not want to hear the albums that Mr Plant wants to create for himself, what they want are more records and tours from Led Zeppelin.  For me, I really do not want another Led Zeppelin album - it has really been over since the eighties with the sad passing of Mr John Bonham.  Yes we have had BBC session albums and that one off reunion, but it was stated as a one off and that is the right thing. Much like Mr Plant, I do not really want to see the hits or rest in the past - time moves on and why should it not be the same for him?  With that in mind, I am going to use the next section that was originally done for this blog by Mr Marc Richardson who was going to do this blog (but ran out of time before he headed to Peru - long story)....

Officially, this is credited to Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters, yet another backing group of musicians that the Black Country boy has amassed as well along with Band Of Joy and Alison Krauss. For me (Marc) it's a little bit scary that Mr Plant has just released this as album number ten, two more than he ever recorded with his equally famous Led Zeppelin peers. Thankfully and as an ardent fan, it's good to see that even at retirement age he's showing no sign of resting on his laurels just yet.

...Whilst Mr Richardson is an avid fan, I have personally drifted in and out with Mr Plant.  I prefer it when he is doing something he is passionate about, I did not really enjoy 'Raising Sands' if I am honest and some of his early solo stuff was not my cup of tea.  But I am actually interested in this record as well, just to see what the man is currently up to (on his alleged final album according to some vicious rumours).

Starting the album is a re-imagination of a traditional song called “Little Maggie” which is a mixture of Arabic overtones, country banjos, electronica interludes and powerful drumming.  Mr Plant himself is not the lion vocally that he was all those years ago, but his deliver is none the less hypnotic.  It is more measured that the bare chest Greece deity of yesteryear that he personified in his youth.    This is an instantly engaging number that introduces the album in the best possible way, not with a big bang or gentle strum; this has the feeling of a traveller who has been around this sphere a few times and who knows exactly what he wants to deliver.  It is the one of the strongest opening tunes I have heard this year and this is not just a superficial boast, it is that damn good.  “Rainbow” is number that I am already familiar with after hearing it when watching the TV coverage of Glastonbury this year.  It sounds much more powerful than it did live to be honest, it might be down to the drumming and the way the wind was blowing the sound when he was on stage.  Either way, it just sounds stunning and once again I prefer the more gentleman approach to Mr Plant’s vocals; much like the performance of Rob Halford on the latest Judas Priest album (Jerm was wrong on that review btw), he knows what he is capable of doing and he delivers it in style.  Next is “Pocketful Of Golden” which has the bass dominating tune, with a keyboard loop swaying in the background, the Arabic horns and strings complimenting the gentle guitar strumming.  It has something of a swagger about the number, but without being the sort of tune that would be offensive or rude; it is just a strange mixture of all of the styles that Mr Plant has released over the years.

“Embrace Another Fall” is another fine example of the traveller theme that was introduced in “Little Maggie” at the beginning of the album, it is very reflective in nature and I am sure that people will make their own assumptions about this number.  However it is the first number to have a true guitar solo in it and it also have a lovely haunting section with vocals handled by Julie Murphy from the band Fernhill which compliment the tune before it starts to build up towards a crescendo ending that does not quite peak, but still sounds very good.  “Turn It Up” is a song which sounds as if it was supposed to have been done by Tom Waits, but it has ended up on this album.  It is a brilliant rock/blues number that has some strange time signatures on it.  It is a good song, a little bit at odds for me against the rest of the record; but still as an individual piece a little gem that should keep the rock heads happy.  “A Stolen Kiss” is one of those numbers that  Robert Plant was just placed on this planet for, it is a soulful piano ballad that sounds like it could be recreated by many a bar during the dark soul of the night.  It is a heartbreaker, a lost love reminder and so fragile that it will make the hardest heart weep openly; and it is all because it is kept simple.  It does not need a thousand things going on, it just keeps it basic and that is its power.  “Somebody There” is the seventh song on the album, with the full band coming back in to this slice of American via the Black Country (FYI – for people not from the UK – the term “The Black Country” refers to an area in England that was famous with coal and iron works: see, history and music).  It is a nice enough song, but nothing more than that for me.  It is still a strong number, but when you compare it to “Turn It Up” or “Little Maggie”, it just does not have that magic thing that makes you excited about a song for me.

“Poor Howard” which is a reworking of the Lead Belly song "Po' Howard" starts off with a drum beat out of time with itself, the quiet by urgent strumming of a guitar and the Mr Plant introduces the song which sounds like a chant about a poor boy and the love which is unrequited.  With each subsequent the song drops its hooks into you, embedding itself in your mind and the charms multiply more and more.  It is a great number once again, showcasing the rest of The Sensational Space Shifters as well as Mr Plant himself.  Ninth track “House of Love” starts with a guitar hollowing as the rest of the band take their time before joining with a soul searching number, which is all about a relationship ending and the ending of union using destructive metaphors.  It is a well played number that shows that you do not need to make a noise that rocks the foundations of the world, to be able to make a song that will rock the listeners' own sphere of existence.  Following on is "Up On The Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur)" which is the penultimate track of the album.  Whilst this song is another that does not reinvent the wheel in terms of sound or lyrical content, it is another union between sounds and instruments from across the ages.  With gentle electronica sounding drums, a pounding bass, the sort of guitar solo that has never been out of fashion and all with Mr Plant leading us like a minstrel would lead a small German town's supply of rats to the river.  It is another highlight on this constantly good album, which ends with "Arbaden (Maggie's Baby)", which acts as a natural counter piece to "Little Maggie".  It ends the album by bring it full circle and ending the album in style.

I will be honest I was not expecting very much from this record; it was the main reason I gave it to Mr Richardson to review as it seemed to be his type of thing.  I am actually really glad he did not do the review now as it has turned out to be a brilliant album.  This album does not feel like a last stand against the world, it does not feel like a fuck you to the people who want Led Zeppelin; it does not feel like someone who is trying something new to seem hip and with the in crowd.  It is an excellent example of an artist who is making the music he wants to do, not giving a damn about what the rest of the world want; yet he is hoping that people will still be interested enough to listen.  Whilst Mr Plant is not able to reach ever note he could in his youth, he is still a powerful and amazing singer.  He is also a clever man, he does not need to wheel out the hits from yesterday all the time and that is a great position to be in.  If this is his last stand (and after this record I really hope that it is not), then he is going out with the sort of album which anyone would be proud to have created. 

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost.....

Top track - Little Maggie

You can purchase the album on Spotify here

You can visit the Robert Plant website here

Mr Plant does not have his current releases on either Spotify or Deezer - So the only way to listen to it is by either purchasing the album or being naughty.  Not condemning or condoling you whatever you do - just saying....

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