Not so much a return to form as a full-blown reawakening. The muses that inspired his decade-plus run of brilliance with Led Zeppelin appear to be sitting on Robert Plant's shoulder again. Like many, I was ready to write off the be-curled golden god, but the proof of his vibrancy is here song after song.

"Tin Pan Valley" serves as a new manifesto, a rejection of resting on one's past glories. Rather than letting himself be entombed in Las Vegas, taking the money with little conscience for the music, Plant cries, "My peers may flirt with cabaret. Some fake the 'rebel yell.' Me, I'm moving up to higher ground. I must escape their hell." As a lyricist and vocalist, he's on point here in a way he hasn't been in decades.

A gentle positivity hints his new band has gotten him out of the city for a "Misty Mountain Hop." He talks about baking bread and letting his light shine, but that hippie thread snakes through his old dark, direct eye. Plant is still dubious of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but there's a palpable spirituality present now - perhaps a byproduct of his passion for soulful modern African artists like Tinariwen and Konono No. 1, who mingle blue notes with bluer observations.

Some, including Plant, have likened Mighty Rearranger to Physical Graffiti, which is a bit overstuffed with ideas. This hews closer to Led Zeppelin III, sharing a similar creative exuberance and audio voluptuousness. In tone, Rearranger hums like Zep's oft-forgotten masterpiece Presence - a hard edge cutting deep but revealing surprising tenderness and remorse.

A huge part of this release's success is the feeling that this is a band, not just a bunch of dudes backing Plant up. The level of interaction is extraordinary, especially for someone of Plant's stature, a plateau where "my way or the highway" attitudes abound. Not unlike Ratdog's empathetic relationship with Bob Weir, Strange Sensation get their leader in a profound way, finishing his musical sentences with just the right punctuation and generating an energy that gives Zeppelin a run for their money. That they only occasionally sound like the Led ones is encouraging, and mayhap a nod to the adage, "You can take the man out of Zeppelin, but you can't take the Zeppelin out of the man."

The website rightly describes former Portishead drummer Clive Deamer as "an edgy leaner Bonham for the 21st Century." The low end is ably bolstered by bassist Billy Fuller, who shows an organic approach to his instrument that belies his experience improvising with Can's Damo Suzuki. Guitarist Skin, a refugee from Brit Popsters Cast, adds a delicate '60s psychedelic feel that's captivating. He mixes strings with guitarist Justin Adams, who spent close to a decade exploring a world of thick ideas with John Lydon in Public Image Ltd. Rounding out the line-up is John Baggot, an expansive, textural keyboardist who's also collaborated with Portishead as well as Massive Attack.

There's a good deal of youthful energy coming off these blokes, and the old man is clearly feeling it. With hints of contemporary Arabic music, electronica, and blues-based rock, it's a pretty intoxicating mélange that "sings a song of freedom" managing to be fun without lacking in depth. Plant's contemporaries have a new yardstick by which to measure their own efforts.

Dennis Cook
JamBase | California
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[Published on: 6/22/05]

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