The Music Box's #6 album of 2005
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2005, Volume 12, #5
Written by John Metzger
Robert Plant has never tried blatantly to distance himself from the recordings that he made with Led Zeppelin, but that, nevertheless, has been the result of his perplexing string of solo outings, on which he has spent more time chasing current market trends and production techniques than making durable music. Sure, all of his efforts have contained at least a few nuggets that were worth savoring, but only sporadically did the material hold its ground against the formidable presence of his former group. In the wake of 1993ís Fate of Nations, however, Plant reunited with his old pal Jimmy Page, and together the duo reinvented Led Zeppelinís exalted canon. Although their subsequent concert recording No Quarter sounded tentative and their studio album Walking into Clarksdale was only superficially pleasing, the nostalgic journey relit a fire in Plant that had been dormant for far too long.
By the time he resumed his solo career, Plant had formed Strange Sensation with musicians who previously had collaborated with Portishead, Massive Attack, and Jah Wobble, and the band made its debut on his highly regarded 2002 effort Dreamland. Although the album was composed almost entirely of cover songs, the power and energy wielded by the group was unmistakable. In rummaging through a selection of tunes by artists that had been a huge influence upon him, Plant not only was rediscovering his muse, but he also was teaching his new group a little bit about his heroes. In the end, Dreamland didnít become an indispensable part of his catalog, but it did play a pivotal role in pushing him forward by providing a solid foundation upon which he could construct the next phase of his career.
Indeed, itís Strange Sensation that serves as Plantís backing band throughout Mighty ReArranger, his eighth solo outing and his first in 12 years to focus upon original material. At its core, the songs are all drawn from the familiar wellspring of pastoral, folk-infused ruminations and booming, blues-baked bellows that served as the basis for Led Zeppelinís reign over rock ínĎ roll, but filtered through its contents are a variety of Middle Eastern and trip-hop flourishes. Granted, thereís nothing here that hasnít surfaced within Plantís music in the past, but the manner in which it is delivered ó a combination of the heavy-hitting crunch of Led Zeppelin I and the tasteful restraint of Led Zeppelin IV ó makes all the difference in the world.
The opening Another Tribe, for example, pits a primal drum beat against a moody, psychedelic, folk-pop arrangement thereby setting the tone for the duration of Mighty ReArranger. Elsewhere, the ensemble fully showcases its dynamic range by lacing Tin Pan Valley with a mesmerizing, electronic burble before discharging its pent-up tension and energy in a violent, volcanic blast over which Plant unleashes his inimitable, trademark howl; the hypnotic swirl of The Enchanter offers an ambient update of his former bandís No Quarter; and like an off-kilter reworking of Buddy Hollyís Not Fade Away, the stuttering rhythmic groove of Freedom Fries is whipped into a thunderous, metallic roar. Adding extra bite to the album is its lyrical content, which binds together a loosely-knit collection of statements about the rise and fall of empires ó American imperialism, to be more specific ó and the dream of a world that is united in peace rather than divided by war. While it loses some of its initial steam as the set slips comfortably into its latter half, Mighty ReArranger, when taken in full, is undeniably Plantís most cohesive and compelling outing since his days fronting Led Zeppelin.
Mighty ReArranger is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box