Lullaby and.. the Ceaseless Roar – Robert Plant
Led Zep – now there was a band. Powerful vocals, astonishing guitar licks backed by a rock steady rhythm section combined with the pomposity that only heavy rock in the late 60s and early 70s was capable of and, off stage, living the rock ‘n roll lifestyle – groupies, industrial quantities of drugs and gratuitous hotel vandalism. Of course, Zeppelin shamelessly ripped off the old Blues artists but we didn’t know at the time and, frankly, didn’t care. Their music was as exciting as it got.
Having sat on the top of rock’s Mount Olympus and not crashed and burned like some of your contemporaries and, alas, band members, where do you go from there? Plant, at least, has used his financial freedom and deep love of roots music (horrible phrase but is shorthand to describe Blues, Bluegrass and African musical influences, to name just three) to continue his musical experimentation and to resist the siren calls (and easy pay days) of a reunion with Page. Astonishingly, Lullaby and… is his tenth solo album, although his first in four years, and a cracker it is too.
His voice is still there – unlike some he doesn’t disguise the ravages of age by drowning his voice with backing singers – but, understandably, we don’t get the range and pyrotechnics of the Plant in his pomp. The band, the Sensational Space Shifters are more than just a pick-up band of session players – they seem to have an affinity with Plant’s vision and are allowed space to develop and embellish the musical ideas. Some of the aural twiddling and doodling supplied, I imagine, by the former Portishead duo can be a bit irritating at times but the fusion of African instrumentation – principally the Gambian musician Juldeh Camara’s ritti, a one stringed instrument producing a sound midway between a violin and a clarinet – enriches the sound.
On one level this is identi-kit Led Zep – repackaging roots music for a contemporary audience – but on another it shows an artist willing to experiment and push out the boundaries and, for once, write his own material. For me the best tracks are the first two – Little Maggie and Rainbow – but there isn’t a duff one in the eleven. Embrace Another Fall is the nearest to a Zep track with the guitarist, Liam Tyson, itching to recreate the killer riffs
Whilst deserving of a careful listen – each time I play it I find and pick up on hidden nuggets I had missed before – it also works as ambient music. If you judge music on a Dinner Party What the F**k is that scale – 10 being the wonderful Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (music for which the MP3 player was designed for) and 1 being the Essential Hits of Neil Diamond, this definitely falls into the middle range. Nothing wrong with that and we should be grateful that Plant has survived and is still able to make wonderful music.