Robert Plant and the Shape Shifters
Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar
Obviously, I was aware of the lion-maned, strutting behemoth during my formative musical years, but, somehow or other, Led Zeppelin passed me by. I preferred shorter, sharper versions of blues rock and popular beat music. In later years, I loved the Honeydrippers’ mini-album. Plant’s work with Alison Krauss is extraordinarily good, leaving me excited but slightly underwhelmed when I opened the packaging on this album.
Well, dear reader, the opening track “Little Maggie,” while full of charming folk-meets-world-music sounds, left me a little non-plussed. But, pretty much the rest of Lullaby and … the Ceaseless Roar has actually taken my breath away.
Thankfully, track 2, “Rainbow,” was a pleasant surprise, sounding like a very restrained Led Zeppelin song. That’s something the singer has desperately tried to avoid in his solo career, but the same is true of “Somebody There” and “Up On The Hollow Hill” — both of which sound great when turned up to 10 and played as easy listening on the family stereo.
On an album that was full of pleasant surprises, two tracks take an almighty left turn from what you would expect from Robert Plant. While still embracing the world music ethos that Plant has fallen in love with, “Pocket Full of Golden” and “Arbaden (Maggie’s Baby)” both have a progressive disco beat last heard when the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were topping the Charts. They both sound absolutely magnificent.
That said, for me the stand-out track — and by far my favourite — is the simple and breathtakingly beautiful “A Stolen Kiss.” It sounds nothing like anything Robert Plant has recorded before and sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it.
For people like me, Lullaby and … the Ceaseless Roar has feel of the folksier side of latter-day Zep, without the thunderous drumming and interminable guitar solos. He’s added subtle flourishes of world music with a ‘commercial production’ (by the singer himself), making it listenable over and over and over again.
One last note: for a man who has lived life to the fullest, Robert Plant has no right to still have one of the most distinctive and best voices in rock music. But, he somehow manages to retain the power and range of his youth, without ever trying to scream his lungs out.
Warner Bros/Nonesuch 7559-79537-3