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Robert Plant’s new album won’t put you to sleep

| Wednesday, September 24, 2014

web_robert plant_9-25-2014Sam Coughlin | The Observer
On Sept. 8, Robert Plant released a new album in collaboration with The Sensational Shape Shifters, his backing band of talented multi-instrumentalists. His 10th solo album, “lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar,” proves that the Led Zeppelin vocalist is difficult to keep up with as he explores a refreshing array of genres.

The most anticipated track, “Rainbow,” was released as a single back in June and features uplifting percussion and airy vocals. Drawing on trance influences, this song is strikingly modern, especially for someone nearing 50 years in the music industry. It sounds more like something from a young (but very promising) indie/alternative band.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that “Rainbow” set the tone for this eclectic album. No one could have guessed from listening to the single that the album would contain an assortment of Western and Northern African instruments, harmoniously combining thumping tribal drumbeats with elegant strings. Mellow rock ballads such as “Somebody There” offset frantic clusters of diverse sound. Plant even incorporates a new level of funk into his typical folk and bluegrass sounds, all in a graceful feat of cohesiveness.

The smooth, dreamy vocals on “Lullaby” carry more understated lyrics than those from Plant’s Zeppelin days, but they are equally profound in a subtle way. The lyrics are strikingly less fantastical than Plant’s earliest lyrics, when he sang about angels of Avalon in “The Battle of Evermore” and angry gods in “Immigrant Song,” to name a few. Instead, they speak directly and poignantly to real-life experiences. The new album also lacks Plant’s distinctive howl for the most part, with the exception of “Turn it Up,” in which his cry of “let me out!” takes us back to “Led Zeppelin,” the band’s debut album featuring songs like “Dazed and Confused.”

Though I can’t help but compare all of Plant’s work to Led Zeppelin, this new album makes it clear why he is avoiding a reunion tour. For an inventive musician like Plant, resting on his laurels is equivalent to selling out. An Led Zeppelin reunion tour (though I have to admit it would be awesome) wouldn’t leave room for the level of creativity of which Plant is capable. The band is no longer complete, and though the remaining members are musically up to the task, they could never fully recreate Led Zeppelin. When I imagine a reunion, I can’t help but think of the Rolling Stones reunion in 2012 and arenas filled with middle-aged businessmen who could afford the pricey tickets. That may have sufficed for Rolling Stone, but I can’t accept that as a worthy climate for a Led Zeppelin show.

The Led Zeppelin days of the late 1960s and 1970s may always mark the peak of his career, but with his tendency toward entirely new projects, Plant shows a desire to remain a dynamic musician. In this new album that takes us all the way across the globe to Africa and into the future of progressive rock, Plant shows us that he continues to ramble on.

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