“Singles ‘Bones of Saints’ and ‘The May Queen’ prove the erstwhile singer-songwriter is in as rich form as ever”
He’s been everywhere from The One Show to BBC Radio 6 Music the past couple of weeks, has Robert Plant. It’s been refreshing to see him interview widely – promoting his album and shooting the breeze as he goes – showing a relatable side to a legend who, with such a legacy behind him, doesn’t need to campaign so diligently. But Plant is more dedicated than most musicians on the planet. As 2014’s ‘Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar’ went down a storm and showed that, nearly fifty years since he started jamming with Led Zeppelin, the West Bromwich-born icon was capable of reinvention, many could argue that ‘Carry Fire’ brings certain expectations. And supported by his band of brothers, The Sensational Space Shifters, Carry Fire is as hot and intense as its title has us believe.
If Carry Fire’s album title is a palm-scorching caution – DON’T try it at home, kids – then the music within is as comforting as any in recent years. There’s the traditional and dependable base of blues, completed with folk, country and multicultural blends. ‘New World…’, with its mysterious ellipsis, is a whiskey-drunk guitar-swing; a whispering Plant looks at children embracing a new land, immigrants fleeing a barren climate and traversing the mountains. It’s a semi-political song that, if one looks hard enough, can apply to the chaos and transition in developing nations – and Plant’s smooth vocal score is one of Carry Fire’s calmer moments.
‘Dance With You Tonight’ is a rare surprise, its jittering introduction rich with reversed electronics and Plant’s caramel tones. It’s amazing to hear such sensuous vocals from an artist synonymous for his lion-like roar . Plant investigates an ever-changing world, offers up the “secret places” – and once again, couples bold imagery with obliqueness. It’s the last chance to melt two yearning hearts; our hero longs for a special smile and the chance to connect with someone.
‘A Way With Words’ might put some in mind of Raising Sand – the album Plant recorded with Alison Krauss in 2005. It has the same woozy electronic guitar but, unlike that L.P., injects sparse and creepy piano. It’s a song that has an eerie backdrop – but, when we hear words of loyalty and strength-against-the-fire, can be reinterpreted to see profound compassion. Plant shows why he’s one of the world’s most enduring songwriters – captivating, with very few words, thanks to that unique voice able to end wars and drop jaws.
‘Bones of Saints’ has been heard and adored, one of the more rousing and spirited numbers on the record. It’s refreshing to hear the song offer balance against the gentler and more romantic moments, giving a nod to albums like Mighty ReArranger. ‘Keep It Hid’ follows suit and, again, alludes to Raising Sands. Anxious electronics and tribal drums frame Plant at his most intoxicating; the voice swoons, entices and deceives with alacrity. It’s another fantastic performance on a song that’s among the album’s very finest.
‘Heaven Sent’ concludes proceedings – and steps Eastwards. It’s mystical and wandering; spiritual and classical. The track builds and effortlessly fuses West and East in a song that talks of empires and breaking fortunes (“Time won’t wait”, our man explains). We get visions of challenges, heartbreak and impending conquest – all whilst the track keeps its cool, impressing with its gentle spirit and intriguing words. Plant’s band is at their tightest and most inventive on ‘Heaven Sent’. It’s a wonderful way to end the album, and provides the eager listener with something truly extraordinary.
Carry Fire does not need to prove itself or compete; Robert Plant is an artist with no equals. He could have released the odd single here and there – but instead, he’s produced an album that ranks among his solo best. Anyone who thinks that former band leaders cannot live up to their early best needs to listen to Carry Fire. It doesn’t compare itself to Zeppelin, and doesn’t have the same spirit. It’s a record that matches the best Plant solo material, blending new progression and curiosity with some familiar sounds. It’s a towering album from a man who seems to improve and fortify with age. Carry Fire might not be able to edge the likes of Wolf Alice and St. Vincent when it comes to the best-of-the-year nominations…but it will give them a bloody good run for their money!