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Robert Plant – Carry Fire

March 18, 2018

“Led Zeppelin is one of the great bands of the classic rock era” – Captain Obvious.

Various sources estimate the Zeppelin’s record sales at 200 to 300 million units worldwide. Not that sales equate to greatness, but sometimes it is an indication (e.g. Beatles, Stones, Doors, Nirvana, etc.). Led Zeppelin are hugely popular, yet critically scorned (at least back in the day). They are influential on indie darlings like Jack White and Soundgarden to name a couple. They continue to influence young rock bands, for example Greta Van Fleet.

Led Zep is extremely important to forming my taste. In my youth, they were so obviously great, that they were almost taken for granted. For me they have stood the test of time.

When they disbanded after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, I assumed guitarist Jimmy Page would have the most distinguished post Zeppelin career. We all assumed he was the musical genius and Plant was merely a peacock lead singer. But in the nearly forty years since Led Zeppelin’s demise, it has been Robert Plant that has been the most productive and interesting. I have enjoyed all his post-Zeppelin work. Jimmy Page’s post-Zeppelin work has been unremarkable – his greatest accomplishment has been shepherding Led Zeppelin reissues.

Which brings us to Plant’s most recent solo album Carry Fire – just another excellent album in his catalog. For the last decade Plant has gone down a very interesting route combining folk, electronica, atmospheric, world music, blues and rock to create a sound that is uniquely his own, yet not out of character of his Zeppelin roots. Plant has aged gracefully and his LPs have been consistently adventurous without being weird. Zeppelin is so big, it is easy to forget that Plant’s solo career has been three times longer than his Zeppelin career. He has refused to be defined by his membership in an iconic band. If you have not followed his career post-Zeppelin, you are missing out on one of the greatest second acts in rock music.

Plant long ago shelved his scream for a coo on his solo work (although as late as 2007 he still had “it” as evidenced by the live concert film Celebration Day released in 2012). The coo has reached perfection on Carry Fire. This is his second album with his band the Sensational Space Shifters. On their first album, lullaby and …THE CEASELESS ROAR the band overshadowed Plant a bit.  The band was so cool and interesting that is was a bit distracting. On Carry Fire the band dials it back a bit and the result is Plant’s vocals.  They are appropriately spotlighted and not lost in the elaborate arrangements of the band. Although, I fully appreciated the bold ambition of lullaby and …THE CEASELESS ROAR, Carry Fire is the more successful album for my taste.

The LP opens with “The May Queen” which has a deceptively simple acoustic guitar riff. If you are a fan of Zeppelin’s “Going To California” you will dig “The May Queen” and most of Carry Fire. Plant’s quiet storm is on full display here. Early listens suggest a mellow vocal, but the more you listen the more you hear the subtle histrionics.

“New World…” goes electric with a nice heavy riff.  Lyrically Plant reminds us of the greatness of our immigrant nation.

“Seasons Song” is a gorgeous love ballad that has a Daniel Lanois feel. The song is chiming guitars and Robert singing with his sweetest coo.

“Dance With You Tonight” continues the Lanois vibe with another love song. This one has a more epic feel.

“Carving Up The World Again…a wall and not a fence” is a solid rock song with Robert singing in a quick cadence. He has a lot to say about the world powers abusing their powers.

“A Way With Words” has an amazing piano part.

“Carry Fire” is the titular track and is a doozy. It has a cool middle eastern feel. It builds in intensity over the course of the song.  If you only have time and patience to check out one song from this album this is the one.

“Bones Of Saints” is the most Zeppelin-like song on the album. But it is fresh and not a reprise.

“Keep It Hid” has a cool electronica feel, yet has an earthy blues feel too. This is classic Plant synthesizing several styles to come up with his own thing.

“Bluebirds Over The Mountain” is the only cover on the album. It was first popularized by Richie Valens and then The Beach Boys. Naturally, Plant reinvents into something totally unique. Plant is joined by The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, whose voice is a perfect foil to Plant’s. Plant has never been shy about sharing the mic with amazing female vocalists.

“Heaven Sent” ends the album on a quiet spooky note. This song gives us some wise advice from the after life:

All that’s worth for doing, is seldom easy done

All that’s worth for winning, is never easy won

All the long goodbyes, all the goodbye songs

All the love for giving, never really gone

This album came out in the fall of 2017 and I have been sitting on this post since then due to other distractions.  I have found that I have consistently come back to this album more than most of 2017’s releases.  It somehow missed getting on my best of 2017 list – which was a huge oversight.  What recently pushed me over the finish line was a great interview with Plant by Steven Hyden on his Celebration Rock podcast.

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From → Music Reviews

8 Comments
  1. I had to spout off on this (before I got to the previous takes). Great take. I was just mentioning seeing Plant on Austin the other night. The band he was playing with was called the Sensational Space Shifters. Really good stuff. Yeah Robert still has lots of good music in him. Not that I need a reminder but thanks anyway.

  2. Your whole intro to this was spot on. “Peacock lead singer.” That’s great. Yea, whatever happened to Page? Other than the Firm and maybe jamming with the occasional worshiper, his entire post-Zep career is repackaging Zep. I look forward to the next remaster of the last remaster. Is he played out? Does he no longer care and figure he’s done it all? Or maybe just he knows he can’t top Zep and won’t even try. As to Plant, I confess I have never bought any of his solo stuff, not even the Alison Krauss stuff, lauded as it is. I listen when I hear his stuff on the radio but that’s about it. But yeah, props to him for still being a vital artist.

    • Assuming you have access to a streaming service you really should try the new album and the Allison Krause thing. They are really good.

      • Just saw in Rolling Stone that Page just released a remastered version of ‘How the West was Won’, some live Zep stuff. Even the DJ on the radio today was wondering why he doesn’t do anything new.

      • Hard to believe a 2003 release needs remastering. But he needs something to do.

      • Yeah, he needs to get into a studio with someone who will kick his ass and can write songs.

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