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Thursday 4 September 2014

Robert Plant : Lullaby and ... The Ceaseless Roar review

Rock giant Robert Plant returns with a new album on Monday - one he has described as “a celebratory record, powerful, gritty, African, trance meets Led Zeppelin”.

And he’s certainly not afraid to explore the avenues of the past without retreading old ground, mixing and matching influences, marrying East and West, and then adding new twists.

There’s much that will delight the faithful who have followed the 66-year-old West Bromwich singer’s career through blues, rock and roll, country and world music, all of which are referenced.

Lullaby And...The Ceaseless Roar finds him in the company of his Sensational Space Shifters, whose eclectic influences enable the band – and it feels very much a collaborative effort – to excel.

Old pal Justin Adams brings bendirs, djembe, guitars and tehardant to the party; John Baggott adds keyboards, loops, moog bass, piano and tabal; Billy Fuller plays bass of all shapes.

Jazz drummer Dave Smith brings busy beats, Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson plucks banjo and guitar, while newcomer Juldeh Camara adds the exotic influence of kologo, ritti and Fulani vocals.

Here’s the track-by-track verdict:  

Little Maggie: Tyson’s banjo ushers in traditional porchfront Americana but just as you’ve settled back in the rocking chair, it heads East instead, with all manner of Camara’s exotic instrumentation. Then, just when you think you’ve figured the itinerary out, it’s underpinned by Baggot’s trance synth. It’ll take a second listen to get hooked by the irresistible rhythm, and then there’s no turning back. *****

Rainbow: An atmospheric song that Bono would surely kill for, it’s driven by softly insistent guitar, with Plant adding post-Orbison vocal swoon. You can already see the pinprick light of mobiles waving in the air. This one’s immediate, a simple song at heart. ****

Pocketful Of Golden: The Eastern influences return – and is that a sly nod to Zeppelin classic Thank You? – for a lovingly layered song boasting rich reverb and a mantra-like vocal delivering lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place on the old band’s albums. ****

Embrace Another Fall: A trance-like song of regret rides in on sandy desert winds until the peace is shattered by the thunderclap of rock guitar power chords that Pete Townshend would be proud of. But the killer is the cameo Celtic folk vocal from Julie Murphy. If Peter Jackson’s still looking for the end credits soundtrack for the third Hobbit movie, he need look no further. *****

Turn It Up: A stripped back but musically muscular track does what it says on the tin, with Plant reprising the banshee wail that conquered the world. Fractured guitar from Adams ups the ante and may have you thinking of David Bowie’s Outside adventures. ***

A Stolen Kiss: Plant has never sung so sweetly as on a bittersweet beauty of a song backed just by echoey piano recorded in St George’s Chapel, Bristol. The lyrics give the album its title, and seem inspired by his painful break-up with Patty Griffin. A late mournful guitar adds to the melancholy mood. *****

Somebody There: The Zeppelin faithful will lap up the reverb-drenched 12-string electric guitar here, recalling a certain double-necked axe used by Jimmy Page on a certain song whose name shall not be mentioned. It’s another gentle song with a classic Plant vocal. ****

Poor Howard: Playful porchfront nostalgia informed by Tyson’s banjo, it’s almost like a skipping song. Nicola Powell adds backing vocals and you can almost see the big grin on an old rocker’s face. ***

House Of Love: Surprisingly straight-forward musically, it’s another song reflecting on loss and although it picks up pace is the album’s onlty lacklustre offering. Every classic album has a weak link. This is it. **

Up On The Hollow Hill: Irresistible guitar riff? Check. Hypnotic rhythm? Check. Eastern atmosphere? Check. Guitar solo? Check. Softly sung, almost ethereal vocal? Check. Okay, you know where we’re going here. *****

Arbaden: Subtitled Maggie’s Babby, it’s a reprise of the opening track but given added Eastern overtones. 

Overall verdict: Robert Plant is never going to escape a glorious past, so the trick here is to dump all the baggage, pretend Zeppelin never flew and imagine that this is the first outing by a new artist you never heard before.
And, d’you know, it’s the best debut you’ll hear all year.