Robert Plant continues his ceaseless search for the sound on 'Lullaby'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The opening strains of “Little Maggie” are unmistakably English. There are banjos picked at dueling speeds, woodwinds piping up in the breaks and bridges and the singer is almost whispering the song’s tale in between. But the percussion is modern, with muted, treated drums intertwining with slowly droning guitars to create a captivating blend of sounds very old and very new that sounds unique and organic.
Fittingly, the entire production is unmistakably Robert Plant, and it sets the stage for Lullaby and … The Ceaseless Roar, his tenth solo record and another notch on his path towards a sound he’s been chasing since he was 30 years old.
Since Led Zeppelin’s dissolution in 1980, Plant has been searching for a sound that could help him break out of the firm mold his mighty band created. He started that journey trying to stay as modern as possible, embracing 1980s production techniques that did more to date those albums than to get him on the radio. But some time ago, he abandoned dreams of remaining a radio hit and started dialing in on music that fused his first loves — American blues, English folk, etc. — with the modern techniques that remained so fascinating.
Those heavy, pounding rhythms that marked so much of his output for so long still make appearances, as on “Turn it Up,” but more often they’re fused with Celtic and Middle Eastern rhythms and sounds. “Embrace Another Fall” features some punching blues riffs that are punctuated by woodwinds and a guest vocal by Julie Murphy. Meanwhile, he remakes a blues traditional “Poor Howard” into another English campfire tale, bringing back those Irish flutes and adding banjo.
His voice is also in fine form. He’s able to take the quiet balled “A Stolen Kiss” and give the song all of the proper emotion needed, singing from the soul without having the whole production take on an inauthentic, schlocky feel. And there are still elements to remind the Led Zeppelin faithful of the singer’s roots. “Pocketful of Golden” contains lyrical and rhythmical similarities to Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” and even “Achilles Last Stand,” which could be intentional or could just be the Zeppelin-file’s mind working in overdrive, connecting dots and recognizing patterns that may just be coincidence.
But beyond those similarities that are likely just evidence of his overarching style, Plant has been more than willing to leave the past in the past as he explores new sounds. If struggled earlier in his solo career with making new music that both appealed to the times and to his old fans, those self-imposed limitations are long gone. For more than a decade now, Plant has fused new, complex rhythms with melodies that would have been familiar in the English countryside a century ago, teaming them with his well-worn voice to create a palate that could only be his.
So in remaking himself, he’s dialed deeper into his true self. Robert Plant has become so adept at fusing his influences with a modern edge that there’s now no one making records that sound quite like his. Just as he did in his twenties with his most famous band, he’s again traveling a path that no one else can quite navigate.
It hardly matters to the artist if the audience is smaller. This is Robert Plant’s intended musical direction, and with each passing album, he comes closer to capturing that ideal sound, the fusion of all these Western and Eastern influences while still pushing the finish line farther into the future. The destination is one that he may never reach, but listening to what he finds along the way makes for more and more compelling listens each time out.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org