Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Robet Plant Fate Of Nations (1993)

0000129270_500From martinleedham.wordpress.com

Primarily recorded at RAK Studios during the back end of 1992 and early 1993 “Fate of Nations” was Robert Plant’s sixth solo outing and remains his most Zeppelin like solo record.

In fact it is difficult not to argue that if Zeppelin had been able to continue into the nineties that this would have been the exact type of recording they would have been making. Elements of Zeppelin going as far back as Led Zeppelin III are evident as well as the more obvious similarities to the later albums. That is not to say though that this is a poor mans Zeppelin album. Quite the opposite in fact and I will argue long and hard that this is Robert Plant’s most consistent and well rounded album.

Often cited as a cry to Jimmy Page to work together again opening track ‘Calling To You’ could also be Plant displaying to David Coverdale who was at the time collaborating with Page that when it came to Zepplinesque vocals he was still the master. After an almost gentle intro the track comes to life as a hard hitting fast paced cousin of ‘Kashmir’ with a trademark pouting Plant vocal. The guitar work from Kevin Scott McMichael is spot on and Nigel Kennedy’s violin compliments it perfectly driving the riff along before exploding into a frantic finale.

‘Down To The Sea’ is less frantic but no less enjoyable. Think of one of those folky workouts from Led Zeppelin III or Physical Graffiti rocked up with a huge chunk of eastern mysticism added and you’ve pretty much got the idea. ‘Come Into My Life’ is the first of the slower songs and is literally dripping with emotion. The backing vocals of Maire Brennan, harmonium of Phil Johnstone and hurdy gudy of Nigel Eaton creating the perfect backdrop for a husky passion filled Plant vocal.

At this point in the album the lighter more commercial radio friendly sound comes in with the two better known tracks from the album. Placing the two next to each other was a work of genius as they compliment each other perfectly. ‘I Believe’ starts with an almost pop like intro before the melody takes over and transforms the song into a classic peice of commercially accessable nineties rock. ’29 Palms’ carries the feeling on perfectly and was Plants tribute to not only the town in the Mojave desert but also Canadian songstress Alannah Myles with whom he was …….. lets just say touring …… at the time he wrote it. Note the velvet glove reference at the beginning of the song. Either of the two could be seen as natural progressions from ‘All My Love’ on “In Through The Out Door”

The power is back with ‘Memory Song’ which opens with a particularly heavy riff that remains prominent throughout. Some acoustic guitar is layered on top in parts but in truth the song really fails to go anywhere. It is one of the few weak links on the album for me but that may of course come from following the five excellent tracks that started the album off. The cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ is next and takes Plant right back to his days on the folk circuit of the Black Country. Hardin’s tracks for me have always been better when performed by someone else and Plant re-iterates that view for me here as his version is far superior to the original.

The string arrangement by Lynton Maiff and mandolin of Maartin Allcock setting off the track nicely. ‘Colours of a Shade’ starts off with an almost spanish guitar intro from Allcock who also plays mandolin again and Aeoleon pipes along with Chris Hughes. All this provides an extremely atmospheric, almost ethnic and beautiful backing for another sublime Plant vocal. For some reason this track was left off some non UK issues of the album. A curious decision to say the least but one which has been rectified on subsequent issues. ‘Promised Land’ sees a return to the band sound and is another fast paced riff driven track that wouldn’t have been out of place on one of the later Zeppelin albums. Along with the earlier ‘Memory Song’ it is, for me at least, lacking in the quality of the other tracks.

The next two tracks ‘The Greatest Gift’ and ‘Great Spirit’ have been described as Plant’s most heartfelt vocals ever and whilst that may not be entirely correct they are certainly up there with the best of them. One thing that can’t be denied though is that this is certainly Plant’s most personal album. The lyrics throughout giving rare glimpses into the mans soul and inner feelings on a variety of subjects. The posturing rock God and hiding behind Tolkien themes and imagery is long gone and what we have here is an artist reaching into the very depths of their being and laying it out there for all to see and it is indeed the greatest gift he can give us. Plant displays his love of the ethnic and of eastern mysticism once more with the truly wonderful ‘Great Spirit’. Rarely has a song about social conscience and the self destructive nature of the human been so beautiful and also so uncondescending.

You actually believe by the end of it that Plant truly believes every word he has sung. Packed full of feeling and soul it demonstrates a side of Plant’s vocal ability which is sadly overlooked by many, and is one which he goes back to all to infrequently. There is an argument that this is the best track on the album. High praise indeed but fully deserved. The closing track ‘Network News’ is a fast paced angry swipe at the purveyors and surveyors of the worlds demise and is almost a parallel delivery of the previous tracks message. If ‘Great Spirit’ was saying it with love then ‘Network News’ is saying it with a mighty uncontrolled anger.

“Fate of Nations” is unfairly overlooked by many as Robert Plant’s ‘social conscience album’. For me though it is the perfect Robert Plant album. It highlights all of his vocal and songwriting abilities and sees him reaching new heights as a lyricist. Far superior to any of the subsequent Page/Plant releases it is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Plant’s solo career. In fact it is so good as a listening experience that I believe it is second only to Led Zeppelin II in Plant’s entire back catalogue.

Advertisements

January 6, 2014 Posted by | Robert Plant Fate Of Nations | | Leave a comment

Tangerine Dream Rubycon (1975)

tangerine_dream-rubycon(3)From sputnikmusic.com

Although never really a psychedelic outfit, Tangerine Dream are bizarrely sometimes mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Iron Butterfly instead of their more natural partners, Kraftwerk. Doubtless, many experimental members of the late 60s and early 70s counterculture would have considered a Tangerine Dream album to be the perfect soundtrack to their chemical novas, but the commercial and creative zenith reached in the mid 70s was largely due to the new, experimental equipment they invested in; this was a band making the music of the future. These strange new sounds hit the masses hard withPhaedra; it was only right that the Greek should be followed by the Roman – Rubycon, and well named it is too, the Rubicon being the river crossed by Julius Caesar that symbolically declared war; the ‘point of no return’. Rubycon’s portentous, swirling mass of paranoid emotion and freefalling trips through space and time are a million miles away from the safety of psychedelic rock.

Part 1

It opens gently enough, in a cold, dark room. An eerie echo shudders, a muffled bell-like sound bongs here and there undecidedly, and delicate watery effects twinkle through the emptiness. Where is this? There is an almost tangible sense of unease pervading the air; the feeling is tense, yet blank, almost sterile. A keyboard pitches a hint of a melody higher, and higher. But then a choral surge rises up, the clouds part, the light shines through. Wherever you were before, you have now reached a place of peace. A flock of gulls soars overhead, and the mellotron kicks in. Synthetic shimmers lap the shore, subtle percussive bubbles spatter the speakers. This beach, this mountain-top, this place in the clouds; it glows with purity, with aerial freedom, with evocation. You feel the warmth of the sun. All is well.

And then, without warning, the wind lets up, the waters recede, the harmony evaporates. Skittering rattles precede an ominous low murmur; warm, electric, dark. What will emerge? A sequencer line builds up tempo, like a terrible rising fire, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as safe anymore. Pacy, dramatic, it burrows its way into your mind. Here and there, a synth line tries to ride over it all, strange, blank, empty echoes attempt to interrupt, whispers of vague melodies strain to be set free, but the relentless rhythm throbs away insistently, and the other effects can only play second fiddle. The sound is of urgency, maybe the thrill of the chase, or the sound of a slow build-up of power, confirmed when a sudden static buzz penetrates the rhythm from out of nowhere, and a prepared piano abruptly CRASHES ferociously out into the world, dissipating into a grandiose echo and some tribal, bone-clanking percussion. The tension is still there, inexorably pulsing along; the pace desperate, paranoid, urgent. But it’s a false lull; the low murmurs of male voices wailing in haunting unison herald the foreboding buzz again, and the cataclysmic off-key CRASH sounds again; a momentary breath, and then a third and final wave of discordant hellish sound SMASHES down. The sequencer line finally starts to lose some of its intense heat as metallic thumps and echoes clang dully, accompanied by clicks of hollow, wooden percussion, and finally those tense shimmers are earthed and melt away into nothingness. Breathless, you close your eyes. Whatever it was, it’s over.

Part 2

Or is it? An ominous hum signals the beginning of part two, developing into a low, melancholy, wretched siren, the droning buzz of the synthesisers only adding to the doleful feeling of enemy planes flying over a black sky. The stifling fear, the dry uneasiness; all the prelude. Before you felt only the excitement of tension; now you develop a sense of utter dread as the despairing moans of the souls of the dead rise up out of the mire, and a bead of hot sweat runs down the back of your neck, as if you were standing at the gates of hell. Wherever this is, wherever you imagine it to be, it’s a lonely, desolate place. You can feel the heat of the flames. Subliminal despair reigns supreme.

Uneasily, a Moog takes a few uncertain steps away from the doomy choir, and then another determined rhythm pewts confidently in, stuttering along repetitively; a bassline builds into a heartbeat, airy synths take off, and the shimmers of light return. Before you were in the depths of the earth; now, you’re flying through space, eyeing the cosmos, shooting through the void. Galaxies, quasars, stars; all rush by in a second. You can travel anywhere; you can do anything. Sharp, pulsing pewts and squeals afford a brief glimpse of the future – the near-literal out-of-this-world synthetic effects that would feature so prominently in many melody lines from then on. But the light-speed pace climaxes into an ear-splittingly high-pitched screech, and eventually dissipates, descends, and dissolves. In water.
Opening your eyes, you’re on the beach again, the waves lapping your feet. Unnerving, uneasy buzzes and delicate shimmers beg the question; are you safe at last? Have you survived the journey through chilling, empty rooms, outran the pursuer, dodged your enemies, emerged from the bowels of hell, survived your interstellar trip through space? Improbably, a flute solo has the answer – Peter Baumann ending your trip with the purest of sounds; gently, organically, and conclusively. Was it all a dream?

Of course, that’s only one interpretation. The multitude of layered sounds allows the listener to use his own imagination to come up with a meaning for it all, if indeed there’s one to be had. With just as much sonic complexity and texture as Phaedra, the sole advantage that Rubycon has over its sublime, drifting predecessor is a stronger sense of passion; a relentless urgency that fools you into thinking that the album is a short, sharp, flash in the pan, though the 34 minutes here is a very tidy and quality-assuring sum enough (in those vinyl times). Neither album lacks beauty or feeling, but though this is widely viewed as Tangerine Dream’s second-best album, in reality it comes down to personal choice – which is more important to you: aesthetic perfection (Phaedra) or emotive depth (Rubycon)?

Naturally, this won’t appeal to everyone. There are rhythms, but no beats; notes, but few melodies. The formlessness of the music is part of the charm, as is the suffocating, claustrophobic darkness punctuated by faint glimmers of light. Edgar Froese’s reversed guitars, Baumann’s flute and prepared pianos are all in there, carefully tucked away amongst the mellotrons, all conjuring up the feeling of the Rubicon – the life and death, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. What’s it all about? That’s the beauty of Tangerine Dream. It means whatever you want it to mean.

 

January 6, 2014 Posted by | Tangerine Dream Rubycon | | Leave a comment