Sunday, November 9, 2008

Robert Plant 1: Pictures At Eleven

The first year after the official demise of Led Zeppelin was fairly quiet. Then Jimmy Page released his soundtrack to the hideous Charles Bronson film Death Wish II, followed a few months later by Robert Plant’s first solo album. Pictures At Eleven sported a fashionable haircut, a Strat-heavy guitar player in Robbie Blunt and Phil Collins on drums, making for a very radio-friendly set.
As would be expected, the songs seemed to be something of a progression from the last Zeppelin album, with more synthesizers and a few vocals that explored Plant’s Arabic influences. Right away the stomp of “Burning Down One Side” pleased fans hungry for that old sound, with Robert in good voice. “Moonlight In Samosa” immediately offers quieter contrast, but its fake Spanish motif doesn’t convince. “Pledge Pin” immediately speeds back the pace with a modern riff and rhythm highlighting Phil’s rototoms, giving way for an extended sax break halfway through to the fade. With guest drummer Cozy Powell pounding away on the kit for eight minutes, “Slow Dancer” revives the mideastern melody of “Kashmir” without sounding at all like a ripoff. (If anything, it predicts the sound of Deep Purple’s comeback a few years down the road.)
On side two, “Worse Than Detroit” is a return to straightforward rock, with lots of slide and a verse sung to a telephone operator, but coming to a dead halt for a seemingly unrelated guitar and harmonica break. After five straight songs with heavy drums, “Fat Lip” gets its rhythm from a machine, sounding more like a demo. “Like I’ve Never Been Gone” comes off slightly overwrought at first, but becomes a favorite after enough plays, and a better version of the mood attempted with “Moonlight In Samosa”. (It’s also one of the few examples on the album of the song title actually used in the lyrics.) Finally, “Mystery Title” recycles the sound of “Pledge Pin” and “Worse Than Detroit” for a noisy conclusion.
Pictures At Eleven provides a good template for Robert to work on now that he didn’t have his old band anymore. It’s no masterpiece, but the songs are inoffensive, and it sure was comforting to hear that voice again. As his journey brought him to more non-commercial areas in the years to come, the album’s quality would become even more apparent. (Speaking of which, it took a whole 25 years until the remastered CD added, alongside a negligible live track, the underappreciated B-side “Far Post”, a terrific song that got its biggest exposure — about three seconds’ worth — in the film White Nights. It’s especially welcome as a closer, coming right after “Mystery Title”.)

Robert Plant Pictures At Eleven (1982)—3
2007 remastered CD: same as 1982, plus 2 extra tracks

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