Well, well, well… Somebody must have walked over to Robbie Plant after a show, lightly tapped him on the shoulder and said: ‘Hey! That was a great show, but I thought you were once a member of that great metal band, Led Zeppelin? Or maybe it was some other Robert Plant?’ And Robbie got all sick and depressed and finally said, ‘Right! I’ll make a Led Zeppelin album if they want me to!’. And Manic Nirvana rocks hard as a result.
All the songs just RIP out of their shells, with bashing crashing drums, fat distorted guitars all over the place, fast tempos, occasionally screeching vocals, overexaggerated choruses… all of this never falling on even a single half-creative, half-innovative idea. For the most part, this record just screams COCK ROCK at you from every corner. Smutty lyrics, even – ‘Big Love’ is as far removed from ‘Big Log’ as possible.
But dang it, I love this album. I feel ashamed to admit it, but I love this album. Then again, why should I ever feel ashamed? On the contrary, I must praise Robert for taking that wretched genre (further massacred by late Eighties generic production) and coming up with interesting songs where others would have probably never really bothered to find hooks and impressive melody resolutions when the penis waggling alone would count.
True, there are some embarrassments along the way, and Robert’s strange tendency to ‘sample’ sounds of the past is not a thing I really approve of, as when he incorporates excerpts from the Woodstock stage banter (‘Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast and bed for four hundred thousand…’) into ‘Tie Dye On The Highway’.
But most songs, co-written with guitarist Chris Blackwell and other band members, definitely have their moments. If this really was Plant’s idea of a rocking comeback, he succeeded! As amazing it is – I, for one, would never have expected him to be able to successfully pull off a cock rock album thus late in his career.
I mean, take that controversial song, ‘Big Love’, with lyrical matters akin to the ones you’ll be encountering on Kiss records. However stupid it sounds, it’s a pretty driving funk number at any case, with a real catchy, if repetitive and ‘dinky’ chorus. And a messy, but powerful chaotic coda. And a generic, but effective guitar solo. It’s sleazy and offensive, but it’s also memorable, and not for a single second do I really get the feeling that Plant is just exposing his fading sexuality on this song. He doesn’t even overscream! What happened?
Of course, ‘Big Love’ isn’t the best number on the record. But there are many worthy candidates. What about the opening rocker, ‘Hurting Kind’? Am I the only one to think that Plant was going for a very ‘Black Dog’-ish opener on here, only less bluesy than its predecessor? Am I the only one to think that the ‘all right, all right, all right I got my eyes on you’ chorus is sheer genius? Am I the only one to think that Plant sounds more convincing on that thing than he sounds on ‘Stairway To Heaven’? (Hey, the boy’s always been a friggin’ horrid mystical poseur, but he’s always been one darn find cock rocker!).
Then there’s ‘She Said’, with a strange mess of Eastern influences, Sabbath-esque wah-wah riffage, and shrill, ear-blasting guitar trills that seem to be telling us: “Yes, mister, this album is overproduced, but listen to us, we’re guitars and we’re fresh and we’re human played! Refresh yourself!” There’s also the retroish ‘Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night’, replete with record hiss which doesn’t really go anywhere because the production is unmistakably Eighties/Nineties, still, the song’s cool.
The primary effect, like I think I already let you know, was to bang the listeners over the ears with the great wall of rockin’ sound – which doesn’t mean there aren’t a few lighter songs. The power ballad ‘Anniversary’, for instance, is saved from the usual power ballad fate because it’s more pessimistic in nature than the usual ’emotional’, ‘optimistic’ call-to-arms that most of the power ballads. It boasts a supercool solo from Doug Boyle, martial rhythms, unintelligible lyrics and everything that goes along with that stuff.
But maybe my favourites are actually the tearful acoustic ballad ‘Liars Dance’ and the moody shivery folksy shuffle/Goth send-up ‘I Cried’. The clear acoustic shuffle, the dreadful distorted wail in the background, the medievalistic backing vocals, and, of course, the mystery-shrouded ‘this is why I cried’ chorus all combine to make the song a masterpiece, really worthy of Led Zep… why couldn’t Plant have been writing songs like that at the time of Physical Graffiti? But maybe I shouldn’t ask.
But maybe instead of that I should ask why the hell is the song ‘Nirvana’ arranged as a powerful arena-rocker? And why does it seem to me that Robert is using the word ‘Nirvana’ as the name of his gal rather than a particular state of further non-existence in the material world? What I immediately suggest is that the Dalai-lama start immediately suing Mr Plant for mocking the cause of Buddhism. If he’s successful, he may just gain the financial support that’s necessary in order to arm the Tibetan monks to win their independence. But don’t tell anybody this advice stems from me, I wouldn’t want to make enemies with the Chinese government.
I’m just a poor innocent reviewer who happened to like Robert Plant’s fifth solo release even if he was expecting a pile of shit. Come now, would you be expecting anything but a pile of shit from a record with such a dreadfully provocative cover?
With the release of his fourth solo album Now And Zen, former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant seemed to recapture some of the magic he once shared with his former bandmates — not surprising, seeing that Jimmy Page guested on two tracks.
But when it came time to record the follow-up album, Plant seemed like he wanted to try to hold onto that magic without relying on his past. The end result, Manic Nirvana, proved one thing – he couldn’t. This is a weak effort that nearly reduces Plant to a bad Zeppelin clone, though he does hold out some promise towards the end.
To be honest, I had forgotten how much I disliked this album, having not listened to it in well over four years. The lead-off track (and first single), “Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes On You),” is indicative of how much trouble this album is in from the get-go. Sounding suspiciously like a re-tread of “Tall Cool One” from Now And Zen, Plant and company lay down a half-hearted attempt at rock while Plant moans and wails like an alley cat hit by a car. Memo to Plant: this schtick worked when you were 20.
Plant can’t even help but to dig up the bones of the past on “Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night,” lifting a portion of the first verse from Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” — good grief! For an artist who was so cutting-edge at the start of his solo career because he turned his back on the ghosts of Led Zeppelin, he’s sure making up for lost time now… and it’s just not working.
Take tracks like “SSS&Q,” “Tie Die On The Highway,” “I Cried” and “Big Love,” and add them to this mixture, and it really seems like Manic Nirvana is headed towards the great cosmic dumper. Fortunately for Plant, he is able to pull two miracles out of his open-shirted sleeve right at the end.
The first comes in the all-too-brief “Liar’s Dance,” a vocal-and-acoustic-guitar number which breaks loose from the self-plagiarizing activities of Plant’s two most-current albums at the time, and allows Plant the freedom to truly emit as a vocalist. (It also showed the path he was going to start treading on his future album Fate Of Nations… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves now.)
The second comes in the album’s closing track, “Watching You”. It returns to a rock beat, but coming off of “Liar’s Dance,” this one seems to have a little more originality injected into it, and it works better. Where were these tracks a half-hour ago, I found myself wondering.
I fully understand Plant’s past, and I realize that he’d be a fool to deny it throughout the length of his solo career. But Manic Nirvana proves that the good ol’ days of Led Zeppelin were, at the time of this release, 10 years behind Plant, and it might have been a good idea to let those days finally go after exorcising them on Now And Zen. Instead, Manic Nirvana sounds like an album of Now And Zen rejects.