Fate of Nations
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4
Written by John Metzger
So daunting is the legacy of Led Zeppelin that even a powerhouse vocalist like Robert Plant felt obliged for a time to flee from it. Consequently, where his former band came roaring out of the gate, fully formed and foaming at the mouth, Plant stumbled through a series of solo outings in the 1980s on which he increasingly employed the sort of overly produced, synth-drenched arrangements that typified the era, the kind that now sound seriously dated. Granted, he still commanded attention; likewise, his work contained hints of his glorious history. Yet, his commercial success hindered his evolution more than it helped it. After all, why should he repair something that was so financially lucrative? Although he continued to germinate new ideas and carry forward the concepts that he had developed with Led Zeppelin, he also appeared to be paralyzed by his attempts to hold onto the past while slipping into the present.
Then, along came Fate of Nations, an album that, 14 years after its release, remains the most pivotal effort of Plantís canon. Hardly a perfect endeavor, it was, nonetheless, the outing on which he turned a corner, discovered a way out of his dilemma, and mounted an escape from the glossy textures that had sucked the organic essence from Shaken ínĎ Stirred, Now and Zen, and Manic Nirvana. As a vocalist, he arguably never sounded better than he did on Fate of Nations. Although he still was quite capable of conjuring demons with his anguished, tormented wail, he also had gained a supple expressiveness that could hold its own with the best that Motown had to offer. In the end, Fate of Nations gave Plant the confidence to embark upon a full-fledged reunion with guitarist Jimmy Page ó which, as it turned out, was more hype than substance. Most important, though, it effectively relaunched his solo career by laying a firm foundation for everything that followed.
Right from the start, with the propulsive, heavy stomp of Calling to You ó one of many permutations of Led Zeppelinís Kashmir that he has concocted over the years ó it was clear that the crafting of Fate of Nations had stirred something deep within Plantís soul. Replacing Pageís crash-and-burn pyrotechnics with violinist Nigel Kennedyís manic inventiveness, the song served notice that Plant had begun to rediscover his wayward muse. Still, the first half of the outing faltered slightly as the Eastern shadings of Calling to You gave way to the tabla-driven groove of Down to the Sea; the duskily hypnotic country-soul of Come into My Life; and the infectious pop of I Believe and 29 Palms, before finally swerving back into the snaking, Zeppelin-esque march of Memory Song (Hello, Hello). Still, the primal, heavy metal intensity that made his former bandís work so forcefully compelling was noticeably diminished, and the atmospherics that Plant applied to the rest of the opening actís tracks were so disparate that the material, good as it was, struggled to assume a single-minded sense of identity.
The latter half of Fate of Nations, however, unrolled in a remarkably cohesive fashion, and taken in full, it shed light on the entirety of the affair. Containing his trademark, blues-baked swagger, Promised Land was a writhing fireball that fully tapped into the gritty potency of Plantís past, while the Biblical implications of Tim Hardinís folk classic If I Were a Carpenter became the lynchpin that not only united the endeavor but also bound Plantís pre-Zeppelin pursuits to his subsequent solo outing Dreamland. Furthering this notion is the lovely remake of Moby Grapeís 8:05 that augments the remastered rendition of the effort.
Nevertheless, the final two tracks (Great Spirit and Network News) were what lent Fate of Nations its heart and soul as Plant outlined the horrors facing the world and called upon a higher power for guidance and salvation. Set up perfectly by the gentle, loving smoothness of The Greatest Gift, Great Spirit spiraled outward from Marvin Gayeís iconic outing Whatís Going On to develop a life of its own; and with lyrics that tell tales of "flags, princes, kings, patriotic fools/as freedom lies in twisted heaps," Network News was a scathing indictment of the first war in Iraq that chillingly has repeated its relevance a decade later. In 2005, Plant reworked his ideas and tweaked his overall approach, the result of which was Mighty ReArranger, the current pinnacle of his solo canon. It all began, though, with Fate of Nations, an outing that has grown in stature and magnificence as it has aged.
Fate of Nations is available from
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Fate of Nations is part of the 9 Lives box set, which
also is available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box