In the recent album trailer for lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, Robert Plant says, “It’s about lifespan, about music, about obsession. I guess it’s a kind of soul searching in a way and a sense of homecoming. These songs are an ode to life and love and the fragile adventure that you set out upon unknowingly and unwittingly.” And if anyone’s well-placed to summarise the record, then that person would surely be Robert Plant.
By the same token, his perspective is also bound to be from the inside looking out. For the rest of us, it’s the other way round and, although the majority of the songs on lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar are new to me, I have to say that, having heard several live bootlegs of RP & The Sensational Space Shifters over the past couple of years, the overall sound is pretty close to what I’ve come to know and love. OK, the studio environments make a huge difference to the technical quality, but it’s clear to me that lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar has been quietly and steadily growing for such a long time that this album is more like the first fruit of a new season than some weird genetically modified mutation.
Is it the record that the corporate suits and a disappointingly large number of fans were hoping for? Probably not. This isn’t ‘product’ in the sense of a formulaic rerun of past glories – it’s the taste of wild strawberries you’ve come across as you ramble through the brambles on a country walk, not a jar of jam you could grab from the shelves of your local supermarket at any time of year and know that it will always taste the same.
Yet as sweet as wild strawberries are, there’s much more than just one flavour on offer here. This is a drawing together of all the musical threads that are woven into Robert Plant’s creative history. There are the familiar Celtic-tinged folk references (Pocketful Of Golden – and the guest appearance of Fernhill‘s Julie Murphy on Embrace Another Fall is particularly evocative)… A nod to the old school rock that brought Robert to such prominence in the 1970s (Turn It Up and Somebody There, through which the spirit of 1960s West Coast psychedelia wanders freely)… A healthy dash of some of the music from North Africa which has been such an influence (Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby), and Poor Howard with its brief lyrical and melodic tip-of-the-hat to Robert’s mid-1990s unledded wanderings)… The Mississippi Delta blues music which has been his touchstone since the start is in there, too (Poor Howard channels Lead Belly to good effect) – leading us into the folk music of the Appalachians (Little Maggie), steeped as it is in the real traditional folk music from Britain… The road-weary ballad A Stolen Kiss, red-eyed and fevered with the hum of the miles… Even a hint of Jamaican dub music in the arrangements of Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby), as scoured by the sub-Saharan desert sands as it may also be. Yet Robert knows where he is as well as where he’s been – Up on the Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur) makes good use of contemporary music technology and techniques and House Of Love is about as radio-friendly as the record gets.
But ultimately any attempt to try to unpick these threads will be fruitless, because the success of this record is to be found in its weaving together of these multiple strands to create something bigger. All of Robert’s musical influences have been absorbed and percolated through his creative vision to create something which is much, much more than the sum of its parts.
There is indeed a sense of homecoming, of grounding oneself and recharging the batteries; there’s also a certain amount of retrospection, of looking back on the paths you’ve followed. In the process, Robert – aided and abetted by the phenomenal musical chops and teamwork of The Sensational Space Shifters (Justin Adams, John Baggott, Juldeh Camara, Billy Fuller, Dave Smith and Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson) – has in effect created a musical palimpsest. All those layers, those roads less travelled, the good times and the bad, are in there; not always visible, although their presence is often felt at the most unexpected moments. It’s been a long time coming but now it’s here, it’s safe to say that in lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar Robert Plant has produced his most transcendent record to date.
Review by: Helen Gregory
Little Maggie (Live at Glastonbury 2014)
Rainbow (Live at Hydrogen Festival/Padova)
Pocketful of Golden
Embrace Another Fall
Turn It Up
A Stolen Kiss
House of Love
Up on the Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur)
Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby)
The Sensational Space Shifters:
Justin Adams (JuJu, Strange Sensation): bendirs, djembe, guitars, tehardant, background vocals
John Baggott (Massive Attack, Portishead, Strange Sensation): keyboards, loops, moog bass, piano, tabal, background vocals
Juldeh Camara (JuJu): kologo, ritti, Fulani vocals
Billy Fuller (Beak>, Strange Sensation): bass, drum programming, omnichord, upright bass
Dave Smith (Juju, Fofoulah, Loop Collective, Outhouse): drum set
Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson (Cast, Strange Sensation): banjo, guitar, background vocals
Julie Murphy (Fernhill): Guest vocals on Embrace Another Fall, excerpted from Marwnad yr Ehedydd (The Lark’s Elegy)
09 – NEWPORT, Newport Centre
10 – BOURNEMOUTH, O2 Academy
12 – LONDON, Roundhouse
14 – HULL, City Hall
15 – GLASGOW, 02 Academy
17 – LEEDS, O2 Academy
18 – NEWCASTLE, O2 Academy
20 – CAMBRIDGE, Corn Exchange
21 – WOLVES, Civic Hall
23 – BELFAST, Ulster Hall
24 – DUBLIN, Olympia
26 – BLACKPOOL, Blackpool Tower
27 – LLANDUDNO, Llandudno Venue Cymru Arena
Out Now. Order via: Amazon