I have to give Robert Plant plenty of credit. Never mind the Led Zeppelin stuff. Early on, he found a groove of synthesizer heavy albums with some great singles. In the last decade, though, it seems he’s found a firmer sense of what he wants to accomplish, which has less to do with a specific listener expectation and more to do with whatever style interests him at the time.
Plant has often searched for the stylistic atmosphere for his vocals, a sense of musical gravitas to elevate the words to a measure of grandeur, forcefulness, or an enveloping tonal quality. And, neatly tied within, are his vocals, now weathered by time and more kindly defined as distinctive rather than worn. And that’s fair, because, unlike McCartney, for example, he doesn’t pretend that he can do what he once could... or at a level worth recording, anyway. What results is that power is reserved for dramatic effect, but intimacy carries the day. The good news is that he’s writing again, this release including his first originals in 10 years.
Lullaby begins with “Little Maggie,” with West African instruments that set the tone for much of the album. He’s well traveled, and his band boasts a worldly assortment of instruments. The song serves more as an intro piece for setting the mood rather than something to be appreciated on its own. The next three songs that follow continue in a vein of this atmosphere, enjoyable pieces of a whole. “Embrace Another Fall” ventures into something more epic, and it’s graced with a female voice and a strong guitar line, but it falls short of a hoped-for “Kashmir” classic that has a hook that sticks to one’s memory.
“Turn it up” changes the direction to a bluesy rocker, and, despite some great accompaniment, fails as a stand-out due to it’s clunky refrain, which is a waste of a really fine lyric. “A Stolen Kills” follows, which is a straightforward piano ballad with restrained but sterling accompaniment. Intimate, I say again.
From the opening licks, “Somebody There” announces that there’s a tunefulness about it, and plant writes a pretty good “mature but still searching for love” song. Maybe he’ll write a song about why he included the lyrics for only five of the 10 songs he penned as well.
“Poor Howard” is the type of shuffle song that Plant seems to really like... which is unfortunate. It adds a rootsy aspect to the album, but it’s not a song that anyone would bother to play the entire disc again to hear. That should be the goal of every song, shouldn’t it?
“House of Love” is a lyrical and musical success, part two of a song of the same title he recorded on Walking into Clarksdale. Give Patti Griffin (his recent failed relationship) some credit for the inspiration, I guess. “Up on the Hollow Hill” blends his roots with great percussion and a spacey feel, and serves as the album’s closer as “Arbaden” wastes digital space.
All in all, it’s an entertaining album, but shy of a single standout track light “Darkness, Darkness,” it’s yet another Robert Plant album to be enjoyed initially and revisited... eventually. Quality, but not destined for quantity.
Recommended Songs: “Somebody There,” “House of Love,” “Embrace Another Fall”