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Thursday 16 August 2018

Robert Plant reaches another career high

Robert Plant Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar (Nonesuch)

The core DNA of great rock'n'roll is its sense of mystery. Science and technology have allowed us to de-construct the eerie magic of a young Elvis Presley moaning about existential life in the haunted place called Heartbreak Hotel.

We're all smarter nowadays. We can make records in our kitchen.

But in the future, great landfills will be discovered, layered with discarded albums and CDs of such shocking mediocrity that they couldn't even provide a dependable foundation for a hen-house or pig-sty.

Discovering the mystery in music and then successfully conveying it to listeners is something only the really gifted artists can achieve.

Luckily, every so often someone comes along with a musical offering that's at times daft, dazzling or downright dangerous. These are the moments we should celebrate.

Usually it's the young who are fearless enough to venture into unexplored realms of musical eccentricity. At 66, Robert Plant is in a position to relax in the knowledge that he's already made his contribution for the ages through Led Zeppelin.

But unlike many others, he's not trapped in his past. He's still restless, still searching for the source of the buzz he got on first hearing those artists who inspired him.

A rocker from the Black Country, Plant may have outgrew his local boundaries but he never outgrew his influences. He simply added new ones.

On this new 11-track album, Plant's 10th solo studio release, he attempts the impossible, a blend of the varied musical styles that motivate him.

Psychedelia

Theoretically an album that attempts to mix Delta blues, folk music, African instrumentation, vintage rock'n'roll, woozy psychedelia and modern studio trickery should be doomed to end in embarrassment.

But, by Jove, Plant and his band The Sensational Space Shifters, have succeeded in making one of the strangest, most entertaining and sonically thrilling collections of the year.

Opening with the American traditional ballad Little Maggie, driven by a familiar banjo, all seems straightforward. But then the African instruments kick in and the track whirls around like a wild dervish dancer. It's a head-spinning trip.

A hepped-up Gandalf, Plant springs one magical surprise after another. This is elusive stuff.

Lyrically, Plant appears to be charting a failed love affair and finding solace in the Welsh landscape and the greats of rock'n'roll.

Like a melancholy Roy Orbison, he reveals how he "watched the House of Love burn down".

Turn It Up is an explosive rumination on how his love of rural blues shaped his persona. "I'm lost inside America," he pleads. "...stuck inside the radio … let me out!"

You don't need to know a djembe from a ritti to enjoy this dark, meditative and celebratory ride.

It's bonkers but brilliant. HHHHI

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