Right first things first, there’s likely nothing contained here that has not already been said of Robert Plant.
So with expectations suitably lowered let’s set about raising them again, based solely on the power of Plant’s latest album, ‘lullaby and…the Ceaseless Roar‘.
This requires us not getting bogged down with the fact that this album is by Robert Plant, which is easily done.
His achievements are only surpassed by his talents. It appears there has been no musical path he has not travelled, and every road is richer for his having been there. But this is not a review of Plant, it’s a review of ‘lullaby and…the Ceaseless Roar’.
So, artist aside, is it any good? Quite simply and honestly – yes it is. In fact it is very good.
‘lullaby’… is an album like they used to make back in the day. A complete document, a bold and total statement of intent, that fits together as a single piece of work. Plant has a lot of form in this area, so in many ways this fact is unsurprising. But what is surprising is just how well it does fit together.
The whole album has an emphasis on rhythm and mood. Overall it sounds like Tom Waits’ ‘Rain Dogs‘ as performed by Massive Attack, but it is also filled with the brooding, wandering menace of 16 Horsepower’s ‘Secret South‘. At every turn the music feels both threatening and threatened.
Yet, there are a few moments of light to be found if you look carefully enough. ‘Poor Howard‘ is the album’s campfire, bringing its only real warmth and light, the only place to huddle amidst the sublime gloom.
Just away from this are the beautiful ‘Rainbow‘ and ‘House of Love‘, both full of all the same intensity as the rest of the record, but the somewhat ‘Joshua Tree‘-era U2 production just sets them slightly to the side of everything else. They are somewhere in the fading light from the fire before wandering too far into the pervasive darkness of the rest of the record.
Being lost in the darkness here is the whole experience. Plant’s greatest ability, as always, is to use light and shade, and it’s the balance on the album that is perfect. Moments like ‘Turn It Up‘, a track which sounds almost like a veiled threat, are aligned with the sense of mystery and disquiet found on ‘Up On Hollow Hill‘, they manage to bring that feeling of depraved cabaret found on so many Tom Waits albums.
And then tracks like the unsettling ‘Embrace Another Fall‘ and the odd ‘Arbaden‘ bring another raft of influences to the mix. It suddenly sounds like 16 Horsepower recording a world music album. These influences come from everywhere, the ‘eastern’ feel of ‘Arbaden’ is powerful, but don’t expect something like ‘Kashmir‘ (allow us to not resist at least one Led Zeppelin reference) as it’s a very different power.
Throughout Plant utilises this ability to meld all these influences into a cohesive whole. This is not a by-the-numbers album, or an album where Plant rests on his laurels. This is Plant still pushing his boundaries, a beautiful piece of work that never relies on reputation or repetition, instead the sound of an artist who still, after all these years, is at his peak.
And considering the heights Plant has scaled in his career, it is some peak.