Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Robert Plant 6: Fate Of Nations

While Jimmy Page was off playing with David Coverdale, Robert Plant was busy treading his own path. Because of the timing, Fate Of Nations does offer something of a response to that project. But this was already Robert’s sixth full-length solo album, and repeats the cycle already established: put together a band, record and tour behind two albums, then fracture it on the third. Most of his recent recruits are here, but fight for space with other collaborators, while the production is shared with Chris Hughes, best known for his work with Adam And The Ants and Tears For Fears.
The album finds him looking back to the Arabian influences he’d skirted since Zeppelin, while lyrical concerns about the state of the planet (reflected in the artwork) hearken back to the “hippie music” he’d sung before them. It’s a more introspective album than we’d come to expect, but that’s not immediately apparent. “Calling To You” distills “Kashmir” into a 6/4 stomp, and a distinctive violin solo from Nigel Kennedy. “Down To The Sea” is a little more mystical, and “Come Into My Life” only catches fire when Richard Thompson takes one of his iconic solos. And there’s “I Believe”, a movingly intense song that’s an unspoken tribute to his son Karac, who died at the height of Zeppelin’s fame (and quite possibly the biggest reason why he’s always been on the fence about reviving the band). “29 Palms” is an actual radio-friendly love song, of all things, his first and last one for a while. “Memory Song (Hello Hello)” returns to the Mideast for three pounding minutes until an actual modulation occurs.
The most striking departure is a cover of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter”, with vintage string arrangement, Coral sitars and other echoes of the time. If anything, it foreshadows his work in the next century. That mood is blasted away by “Promised Land”, a pale rejig of “When The Levee Breaks”. “The Greatest Gift” is another moody love song, with a prominent string arrangement and a chorus that sounds familiar. “Great Spirit” wanders along, just as “Network News” ends the program with a lot of clatter. These songs were obviously very important to him, as they’re the only ones that had lyrics in the packaging, but social commentary is not why we listen to Robert Plant.
But while there’s nothing wrong with Fate Of Nations, it just didn’t excite. It was also likely the first album he made with CDs in mind, without considering where the sides might start and end. Therefore many of the songs are way too long, so pruning it down from an hour to a more concise 40-45 minutes would have been a big help. If there’s a lesson to be learned from his post-Zeppelin career, it’s the value of a foil, or a steady collaborator, who can provide the right levels of camaraderie and contrast. Fans could be forgiven for hoping Page and Plant would just get it over with and do something together already.

Robert Plant Fate Of Nations (1993)—
2007 remastered CD: same as 1993, plus 5 extra tracks

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