Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Memo to Page: Listen to Plant

Every few issues or so of Rolling Stone, there seems to be a story about a potential Led Zeppelin reunion.  The narrative usually has Jimmy Page at the forefront, making the pitch to bring the band together - although it's rarely clear on whether he's talking about producing new material or giving the old warhorses another run around the track.  The next chapter is usually Robert Plant, expressing some level of dismay about Jimmy wanting to turn back the clock, and sometimes sharing a story about making an offer to collaborate on acoustic material, or some other non-Zeppelin related project.

When I listen to "lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar," the new album from Plant, I completely understand his resistance - why would he ever want to return to the world of Zeppelin, with the unrealistic expectations that would accompany such a venture (not to mention the fact that Led Zeppelin without John Bonham...well, you get the gist), when he's got such a worthwhile and great thing going on with his own music?

And make no bones about it - "lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar" is a fully realized, almost entirely successful album that stakes a claim for Robert Plant as "the most successful solo artist from a legendary band" of the rock era.  By my count, it's his third consecutive triumph, following his collaboration with Alison Krauss and "Band of Joy," the album he made during his relationship with Patty Griffin.  "lullaby" sounds completely different than those two works, and paints a picture of an artist capable of absorbing every genre with which he comes into contact.  On some songs there is a middle eastern feel, on others you hear bits and pieces of what sound like old American folk songs, and on still others he comes across as the greatest crooner of our age.

Although this is clearly Plant's album, it is also a collaboration, with the members of the band he is calling the "Sensational Space Shifters."  On songs like "Pocketful of Golden" and "Embrace Another Fall," there is an understated power to the music (and mystery - sounding like there is a lot at stake here), as if it were a powerful animal being held back by a masterful ringleader.  The sound of the album is also a key to its success, and it wasn't surprising to see Tchad Blake's name show up in the credits, having mixed 8 of the album's 11 tracks.  The sound has a depth and fullness to it that recalls Blake's earlier work with Los Lobos.

We're not likely to see the end of the Zeppelin rumors in our lifetime, but when you can make an album this good that is completely in the spirit of that great band's work, then why bother with a reunion?

No comments: