Plant's new album brings the Eastern influences that had always flitted at the edges of Led Zeppelin's work to the forefront, with the bluesy rock of 40 years ago still slotting in
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Robert Plant has had a diverse career, going from the stardom and madness of an early adulthood fronting one of the biggest bands in the world, to a solo career full of relaxed, folk inspired collaborations. His new album, ‘Carry Fire’ brings the Eastern influences that had always flitted at the edges of Led Zeppelin’s work to the forefront, with the bluesy rock of 40 years ago still slotting in.
Having had a taste of being the front man of one of the greatest rock bands in history, it’s no surprise Robert Plant couldn’t stop making music. However, he’s taken quite a different route to ‘the Rogers’ of classic rock. Waters (Pink Floyd) is still touring on albums he wrote 40 years ago, interspersing tracks from his newer albums where he can, and Daltrey (The Who) is still roaming round hand-in-hand with Pete Townsend claiming to be the same band they were 50 years ago, despite being in The Who seeming to only having a 50% survival rate. Plant, while he can’t entirely avoid crowd pleasing, tends to focus more on his contrasting, folk-based solo career. Having experienced a renaissance since 2007’s Zeppelin reunion, he has released 3 solo albums, the most recent of which have been backed by his obviously named new band- ‘The Sensational Space Shifters’. The large band include African influences such as the Nyanyero player Juldeh Camara, and more traditional folk elements from new member, English folk musician Seth Lakeman on fiddle.
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The album opens with lead single ‘The May Queen’, which is not at all shy about immediately contrasting a synthesised textural line with African inspired percussion and classic folk guitar melodies. Its fiddle is worlds away from Led Zeppelin, which could easily be an intentional indication that Plant has no interest in joining his eagerly waiting former bandmates who are itching to take to the stage again. ‘New World’ brings in a much more familiar sound, avoiding the European/African influences and instead providing a much more modern rock sound, that without Plant’s gravelly vocal could welcome the likes of Morrissey to the spotlight. ‘Seasonal Song’ carries on the familiar sound, this time harking back to an early Led Zeppelin sound, minus the anguished wails Plant used to provide.
The subtly titled ‘Carving Up The World Against… A Wall And Not A Fence’ is a more bluesy inspired track, that allows Plant’s higher range to occasionally pierce the texture and blues guitarist Justin Adams to provide delicate solos between verses. ‘A Way With Words’ is a remarkable ballad, with perfect production that allows each subtle element to blend seamlessly, particularly the haunting piano line and backing vocals. Plant’s lisping voice sounds like David Crosby, and this innocence and age only adds to the appeal.
The title track returns to the international sound, incorporating percussion from Africa and melodies that embody India, all the while keyboards provide modern twists in the texture. The intertwining solos between the instruments which, at first glance, could seem like a guitar and a fiddle, is simultaneously the furthest from classic Zeppelin the album goes, but also showcases what they could have done, had they continued to take their Eastern influences found in Kashmir to higher levels. ‘Bones Of Saints’ takes a folky/blues approach, with Plant’s distinctive voice being perfectly placed in the mix above wails in the background during the dynamically contrasting refrain. Again, it’s clear that Plant is able to delicately mix old and new with the almost Foo Fighters-esque guitar motif that dominates the middle section.
The penultimate track is a duet cover of ‘Bluebirds Over The Mountain’ with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Ersel Hickey’s 1958 track has been covered countless times, including in 1968 by The Beach Boys. Plant completely removes the original Rockabilly style and replaces it with an intro that sounds like it could be turning into an electronic piece, before the heavily edited guitar sound combines with the shuffling snare drum to produce a folk-rock cover that highlights the vocal talents of both Plant and Hynde, especially in their perfectly woven harmonies in the chorus. Finally, the album wraps up with ‘Heaven Sent’, which continues the reminiscent and mournful lyrical themes that have been seen throughout the album. The strings are hollow and pained, and match the sorrowful, slow drumming and quiet, almost lifeless vocals. The unresolved fade out is the perfect, ambiguous ending to an incredible album.
While Plant isn’t touring overcrowded, overloud stadiums, churning out Black Dog for the millionth time like the Rolling Stones do with ‘Paint It Black’, desperately clinging on to their ever fading youth, he is still capable of selling out more musically sound and calm venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he plays in December. Of course, the majority of the fans are there to hear the shrieks of Whole Lotta Love, with their fingers crossed in their pockets that Jimmy Page will stroll out to finish up Stairway To Heaven. However, before long, if Robert Plant is still able to produce music as beautiful as this even in his old age, he will be selling out crowds to a whole new audience, one that comes to hear wistful ballads and exciting modern fusion, and might not even know who Led Zeppelin once were.
Carry Fire is out now via Warner Bros. The albums full track listing is as follows…
The May Queen
Dance With You Tonight
Carving Up The World Again… a wall and not a fence