MIGHTY REARRANGER Robert Plant & the Strange Sensation
What is Robert Plant doing among all these struggling indie artists? Doesn't he have gobs of money, legions of publicists at his disposal, and access to major national press? Isn't he already a music legend? Does he really need to take up space in one of the few outlets available to less fortunate musicians?
Well yes, yes, yes, and yes. If all you know of "Percy" is an image of a strutting young blonde rock god wailing the blooz with Led Zeppelin then well might you wonder where he fits in the Puremusic pantheon? But if you have followed his post-Zep work with half the diligence that, say, I have, then you will be nodding, "Yeah, I get it."
In a world of aging rockers embarrassing themselves on stages, records, and reality shows, Robert Plant stands with Dylan and Neil Young as a lesson in growing old gracefully, and more important, creatively. From its inception, Plant's solo career has demonstrated that much of what made Zeppelin more than a testosterone-driven riff rock outfit came from his inspiration and instigation as much as from Pagey's. The mid-eastern motifs, the jagged rhythms, a sure sense of time and phrasing in his singing, all not only remain but have matured and developed through almost a quarter century of making music under his own name. Pictures At Eleven, The Principle Of Moments, Shaken 'N' Stirred, Now And Zen, Manic Nirvana, Fate Of Nations, Dreamland--there is not an embarrassment in the bunch. One or two might be less than totally timeless--a few too many dated synth sounds--but most wear amazingly well. Plant has shown that in addition to an eye for discovering guitar talent that rivals John Mayall's, he is incapable of pandering to either trends or nostalgia.
Like any true artist his work nods to its era--Mighty Rearranger offers sounds that would sit well on many an electronica record--and Zep fans will certainly relate to the crashing guitars and off-kilter, swinging, Bonham-like beats that appear here and there. But what makes Mighty Rearranger a great record is its uncompromising representation of one musician's personal vision. This record's particular mixture of Arabic strings, African beats, synth drones, blues-based electric guitar and the hard and heavy rock, could only have come from this son of England's Black Country hills. Though Plant is a true collaborator (and for the last two records has had an especially creative and simpatico band), a look back over eight albums shows an evolving but highly identifiable direction that transcends more personnel changes than your local Starbucks.
The high keening wails are a thing of the past, replaced by an almost jazz-like approach to singing, and the Lord of the Rings imagery has been supplanted by an insightful, personal style of lyric writing. In "Tin Pan Valley" he sings, "I'm turning down the talk shows / the humour and the couch... / I'm moving up to higher ground / I've found a new way out." And in the next verse, "My peers may flirt with cabaret / some fake the 'rebel yell'... / Me--I'm moving up to higher ground / I must escape their hell." And so he has: no Zeppelin reunion tours, no records of standards, no guest appearances by younger artists in a desperate attempt to appear "hip" for the new generation. Like Dylan and Young, Plant just keeps making music that he finds interesting and exciting--and is willing to step down from stadiums to ballrooms to do it.
You may very well find it interesting and exciting as well. If nothing else, you will hear how one rock icon has managed to keep on keepin' on with his dignity fully intact. It is a lesson even an indie artist should try to learn. Michael Ross