Music

Robert Plant: Carry Fire

Chris Ingalls
Photo: Mads Perch

The latest album from the voice of Led Zeppelin is another top-notch, adventurous collection of music that’s nearly impossible to classify.


Robert Plant

Carry Fire

Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2017-10-13
Amazon
iTunes

Can I just begin by saying how thrilled I am that Robert Plant continues to make wonderfully unique music well into the 21st century? This is a man who once fronted one of rock music's most powerful, influential bands and could very well have slipped into irrelevance and cheesy nostalgia tours, but his post-Led Zeppelin career has always shown him to be an artist who prefers to take the road less traveled -- or at least the one less predictable.


Plant began cranking out solo albums in 1982, two years after the death of Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and the music he was producing was decidedly different than what was probably expected of him at the time. Most of his singles throughout the '80s -- notably “Burning Down One Side", “Big Log", “In the Mood", and “Little By Little" -- probably had more in common with indie rock than bluesy metal. His mid-'80s all-star R&B/rockabilly project, the Honeydrippers, was another earnest exercise in conscious diversion. But his 1988 smash Now and Zen seemed to indicate that Plant was copacetic with his past, going so far as to sample Zeppelin riffs in the pulverizing single “Tall Cool One". Still, he remained intent on moving forward. In a 1988 Rolling Stone interview with David Fricke, Plant was generously name-dropping current favorites like Hüsker Dü and Faith No More, going so far as to say, “If I made a record tomorrow that sounded like parts of R.E.M.'s Document, , I'd be really pleased."

While occasional one-off Zeppelin reunions have surfaced here and there (including both their train wreck of an appearance at Live Aid in 1985 and the warm, intimate Page/Plant collaborations of the mid- to the late '90s), Plant is still moving forward, and his latest album, Carry Fire is an excellent example of a legendary rock star who no longer needs to prove anything yet still refuses to phone it in.

Carry Fire reunites Plant with the Sensational Space Shifters, his backing band that helped make the 2014 album Lullaby and… the Ceaseless Roar such a lush, psychedelic delight. The tribal rhythms and organic instrumentation (combined with tastefully executed synths and samples) are back, to the extent that Carry Fire could almost be seen as a welcome sequel to that fine album. The sound has an almost folky, campfire feel, but true to Plant's musical roots, most of the songs here are embedded in the blues. Opening track “The May Queen" rolls along a heavy percussive groove with acoustic guitars and fiddles creating an intoxicating noise. “Lay down in sweet surrender," Plant purrs, “Your love so warm and tender."

The organic, unassuming style of musicianship also lends itself to tracks that are slightly more traditionally “rock". On “New World…", slashing electric guitar chords rain down while a chugging mid-tempo beat moves this along in unhurried, hip-swaying fashion. “Bones of Saints" seems to be a nod to earlier Plant solo material -- the driving beat and guitar interplay suggest a grizzled, lazier version of “Tall Cool One".

But much of this is somewhat uncharted territory for Plant. I have yet to hear anything in his solo catalog like “A Way with Words", a startling, abstract, almost jazzy set piece. Piano, strings, and gentle percussion are just a few of the instruments that provide sympathetic backing to what's perhaps Plant's most delicate, vulnerable vocal performance committed to tape. Likewise, “Keep It Hid" combines insistent, almost trance-like percussion with sci-fi keyboard riffs, sounding like a welcome, newfound Radiohead outtake. Plant's love of Eastern scales and instrumentation are evident in Carry Fire's title track, and his penchant for woodsy, Tolkien-ish folk continues with the epic “Season's Song", another track that, like “A Way with Words", shows Plant edging more into a place of maturity without losing any edge.

Plant has never been one to drown his solo albums in gratuitous guest appearances, but he makes an exception with one of Carry Fire's strongest tracks, “Bluebirds Over the Mountain", a song written in 1958 by Ersel Hickey and later covered by artists such as the Beach Boys and Ritchie Valens. Plant turns the song into a potent duet with Chrissie Hynde. The song sounds terrific, with gurgling synths and lumbering guitars creating an industrial take on an obscure R&B chestnut.

The material, arrangements, and performances on Carry Fire would be impressive for any young, brash newcomer. The fact that it comes from the mind of Robert Plant should be no surprise to anyone who's been following his solo career. It's still a relief to hear something so fresh from a legendary artist with plenty of creative gas in the tank.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image