Listen to this track by former Zep-figurehead and recent alt-folk proponent Robert Plant. It’s “Takamba” as taken from his 2005 album Mighty Rearranger recorded with his new band The Strange Sensation.
Being in the position Plant was in, and still is in to a certain degree, isn’t enviable. He was the frontman of a game-changing rock band from the late-60s to the early 80s, not only establishing a sonic template for many, many bands coming up behind him, but also an image too – the Golden God.
After the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, that entity which was Led Zeppelin was no more. Yet, the expectations of fans and of music critics, continued along the same trajectory, a phenomenon akin to the rock and roll law of physics as applied to popular frontmen gone solo. How to proceed then? Make albums that everyone expects and be accused of resting on your laurels? Or, make albums that run contrary to those expectations, and risk losing your audience?
On this album, everyone agreed that the seemingly impossible balance between these two powerful solitudes had been achieved. Plant’s interest in North African textures are certainly served here with the Malian-flavoured introduction. And his penchant for singing atop rock Mount Olympus is also served, particularly thanks to Strange Sensation drummer Clive Deamer, who sounds as though he’s whacking the kit with a pair of telephone poles.
Plant has made a record that seems like a logical progression of all the musical avenues that he has explored earlier. And as such, it sounds honest, as well as elemental and big, which is what he built his career on since the days of Led Zeppelin I. And it is this type of honesty which would further spark a duet record with Alison Krauss, gaining him a following that many never expected without compromising his own musical interests in roots music, and R&B which he’d pursued from the beginning.
Rock icons have it tough in some ways, perceived as dinosaurs who walk a razor-thin edge of critical praise when putting out records in the 21st Century. This is perhaps down to the “hope I die before I get old” factor set rather ironically when many members of Plant’s generation were in their prime. Yet, rock and roll has always been about tearing down walls between styles, between communities, and now between generations too.
The idea of ‘relevance’ being about keeping up with the newest trends is itself outmoded. If anything should be made irrelevant, it should be this. Artists making creative decisions that clearly sharpen the definition their own body of work should be celebrated, no matter when they had their initial success. This is certainly the case with this song, and this album.
To find out more about Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation, check out RobertPlant.com