Man, I love Robert Plant so hard. He’s one of my favourite singers ever. And not Young Led Zeppelin Robert Plant. That guy was great. But I like 40s-And-Beyond Robert Plant even more. There’s a texture and character to his voice that taps into a vulnerability and nuance that even the great Young Led Zeppelin Robert Plant couldn’t muster. I hear it on material from Fate Of Nations onwards. Plant has never been scared to explore new territory, from song to song and album to album, and it really feels like he’s truly expressing himself with his voice rather than simply repeating the songs the audience want to hear. I don’t want to hear Robert Plant replicating what he’s done on record (not that he’d do that anyway). I want to hear him take it somewhere else that I can’t get sitting at home in a beanbag. If you’ve ever seen him live you know what I’m talking about. He’ll play a song like “Black Dog” but it’ll be an utterly different track to the Led Zeppelin version in every way but lyrically. And I frigging love that. The song above, “Little Maggie,” will be on his new album Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar, which will be released September 9 on Nonesuch/Warner Bros. Records.
It’s hard to believe it’s already been five years since the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited (with Jason Bonham on drums) for a one-off show at London’s O2 Arena in honour of Atlantic Records exec Ahmet Ertegün. But what’s really hard to believe is that it happened at all. Robert Plant seems to have a love/hate relationship with Zeppelin, proud of the band’s achievements and even willing to revisit them in various forms with Jimmy Page from time to time (the No Quarter album, Walking Into Clarksdale, a few semi-reunion mini sets in the 80s), but never ready to fully commit to anything with the Zeppelin stamp on it. And it doesn’t look like this will be happening again, so Celebration Day is really all you’re likely to get in terms of new music made by Led Zeppelin.
So what have we got here? A whopping sixteen tracks of Zeppelin classics rendered by three of the four guys who made it happen (and a goodly chunk of DNA from the remainder), in CD and DVD/Blu-Ray form. Kicking off with Good Times, Bad Times, Plant gives a kind of wry wink to the opening couplet: “In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man. Now I’ve reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can.” Plant’s starts off a little tentative here, but it doesn’t take him long to find his groove. Page’s guitar is characteristically raw and un-finessed, but that’s part of what makes him so freaking cool. He never needed to stand still and strum away in the background back in the day, and he’s not going to start now. A blisteringly loose but authoritative solo really kicks Good Times, Bad Times into overdrive and the energy level is cranked.
So I just realised that if you turn ‘What I Listened To On The Train To Work Today’ into an acronym, it looks like an onomatopoeic interpretation of the sound a finch makes.
Okay, this morning seems to have been one of polar opposites for me. I started my walk to the train station cranking Fear Factory’s ‘Obsolete’ album. When this one came out, I got to interview Raymond from the band (for Curio, the student magazine for the University of Canberra – I was the News & Reviews editor). Allow me to slip into self-indulgent journo mode for a second…
When Fear Factory toured Australia to promote this album in 1999, I was lucky enough to get a backstage pass and a photo pass to shoot the first 3 songs. The band opened with ‘Shock,’ the first track off ‘Obsolete.’ After getting a bunch of shots of the band (including Dino with an Ibanez UV777BK Universe 7-string with a single EMG active humbucker), I turned around to get some pictures of the mad wall of mosh happening behind me. Suddenly I felt ‘a presence’ and I realised singer Burton C Bell was right behind me, getting the crowd to go extra psycho for my photos. So I turn around and we sing the chorus to ‘Shock’ together into his mic. Awesome. Awesome.
Anyway, ‘Obsolete’ is my favourite Fear Factory album. The production is sharp, hi-fi and aggressive, with monstrously tight grooves and direct songwriting. Dino’s guitar tone is clear even when he plays complex chords on tracks like ‘Descent,’ and Burton strikes the perfect balance between his screamy voice and his singing voice. Fear Factory made other great albums before and after ‘Obsolete,’ but this is the one for me.
Anyway, after getting to the train station and stopping at the kiosk for a coffee this morning, I switched over to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s ‘Raising Sand,’ which won every single one of the Grammys yesterday, with the exception of the Best Rock Instrumental award which went to Zappa Plays Zappa.
This is a cool, low-key album which reminds me in parts of Page and Plant’s 1998 ‘Walking Into Clarksdale’ album (not only because both albums include the song ‘Please Read The Letter). There’s lots of cool tremolo-drenched guitar playing by T Bone Burnett, and the whole atmosphere is very laid back and real. I would consider this one a bathtub album, or maybe a quiet Sunday afternoon album, sprawled out on the sofa with a sunbeam slowly crossing your bare feet as you read Oliver Sacks’ ’Musicophilia’ or something. Man I wish it was the weekend.
By the way, anyone else notice that T Bone Burnett looks a lot like John Hodgeman (Daily Show correspondent and the PC in those “I’m PC” “And I’m a Mac” commercials)?
Best Hard Rock Performance:
DISTURBED – “Inside The Fire”
JUDAS PRIEST – “Visions”
THE MARS VOLTA – “Wax Simulacra”
MÖTLEY CRÜE – “Saints Of Los Angeles”
ROB ZOMBIE – “Lords Of Salem”
Hmm… Cool to see The Mars Volta nominated, but I’m not sure who’s gonna win out of this lot. Probably Disturbed. Are Motley Crue cool enough to actually win a Grammy in 2009?
Best Metal Performance:
DRAGONFORCE – “Heroes Of Our Time”
JUDAS PRIEST – “Nostradamus”
METALLICA – “My Apocalypse”
MINISTRY – “Under My Thumb”
SLIPKNOT – “Psychosocial”
Pfft. Everyone knows the best metal performance this year has been Testament on “More Than Meets The Eye.” Looks like someone’s desperately pushing for Judas Priest to do well this year. NEXT!
Best Rock Instrumental Performance:
DAVID GILMOUR – Castellorizon
METALLICA – Suicide & Redemption
NINE INCH NAILS – 34 Ghosts I-IV
RUSH – Hope (Live For The Art Of Peace)
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA – Peaches En Regalia
YES! YES! Zappa FTW! I can imagine the Grammy going to Gilmour instead as a kind of lateral tribute to late Pink Floyd keyboard player Richard Wright, but if ZPZ win for Peaches I’m going to be so freaking happy. By the way, Steve Vai plays on this version, thereby continuing the Grammy tradition of nominating Steve in this category every year since 1832.
Best Rock Album:
COLDPLAY – Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
KID ROCK – Rock N Roll Jesus
KINGS OF LEON – Only By The Night
METALLICA – Death Magnetic
THE RACONTEURS – Consolers Of The Lonely
I think this one will go to Kings Of Leon, who seem unable to do any wrong at the moment. Death Magnetic was a lot of things to a lot of people, but it’s well and truly metal, and Grammy voters, a great deal of whom work behind the scenes, might use their vote to send a message to Metallica that the mix of Death Magnetic was not, y’know, commercially acceptable. Anyway, Extreme’s Saudades De Rock should have been nominated.
Album Of The Year
COLDPLAY – Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
LIL WAYNE – Tha Carter III
NE-YO – Year Of The Gentleman
ROBERT PLANT & ALISON KRAUSS – Raising Sand
RADIOHEAD – In Rainbows
I think/hope/wish Robert Plant and Alison Krauss will win this one. Raising Sand is a great album and it’d totally rule to see it take out Album of the Year, even though it’d probably encourage Plant further along his current musical path, and further away from a full-blown Led Zeppelin reunion tour.
More on the Grammys at the Chicago Sun Times.
So I see over at Blabbermouth.net (via eGigs) that the rumours are true: Led Zeppelin are looking at touring with a different vocalist (and, dare I venture to guess, a different name, so fans don’t get all uppity about it?) because Robert Plant is too busy taking over the country music world through his bluegrass project with singer Alison Krauss.
At the Mansons Guitar Show in Exeter, Devon, UK, bass player John Paul Jones confirmed the band’s intentions, and said they’ve been trying out various singers. Jones is quoted as saying “I’m afraid, there’s no final answer yet. As you probably know, Jimmy [Page], Jason [Bonham] and I are actually rehearsing and we’ve had the odd singer come in and have a bash. As soon as we know — which we don’t — we will let you know. But we really hope that something is going to happen soon because we really want to do it and we’re having a lot of fun, actually, just rehearsing. Jason is actually tremendous… he’s really taking chances. He is a very brave man… Every other drummer in the world was watching him thinking [at the reunion show], ‘That could have been me.’ He’s creative and really fun.”
Rumour has it that singers to rehearse with the band include Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, and Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge. Interesting to note that both of these guys are quite proficient guitarists too: Could it be that Jimmy Page is open to the idea of having a second guitarist to more accurately reproduce his studio guitar orchestrations? Led Zep were always into the one-guitar thing live, but I guess if they’re willing to go out there and play these songs without Plant (or the zombie of Bonham), they might as well make further tweaks to the sound.
Jones also hinted that there’s a chance Plant might rejoin the band in a few years, when his commitments with Krauss have concluded. “We really want to do something and Robert doesn’t want to do this sort of thing, at least for the moment,” he said. “I don’t really know what his plans are. He is touring with Alison, as you know. . . He really doesn’t want to make loud music anymore. We do. I mean, I love acoustic music, but it doesn’t stop me from turning something up . . . And what we’ve done so far sounds absolutely fantastic. When it does come, it will come, and you’ll know about it.”
Personally I’m a huge fan of Plant’s solo work, especially the albums Fate of Nations and The Mighty Rearranger, and I’d love to see him perform his solo stuff one of these days. But maaaaaaaaaaaaan I’d love to see him with Page and Jones, so I hope he gets bitten by the rock bug again soon.
Photo: Getty Images via NME