The 1983 release of The Principle of Moments was the second solo album by Robert Plant, following the disbandment of Led Zeppelin in late 1980. The album follows close on the heels of Plant’s debut, Pictures At Eleven and employs the same musicians and production team. Recorded in Wales, the production was polished and clinical while maintaining enough rock edge to keep it original and interesting. Plant had declined to tour following his debut because he didn’t want to perform any Led Zeppelin songs live and didn’t yet have enough original solo material to justify a tour. With the release of this second album, Plant’s second life as a major recording artist took was fully spawned.
The Principle of Moments was the first release on Plant’s independent label Es Paranza Records, after the folding of Led Zeppelin’s label Swan Song, which was also the label from Plant’s debut. Swan Song ceased operations due to the failing health of Zeppelin manager Peter Grant. When Swan Song’s offices were cleared out in 1983, early demos from Iron Maiden, Heart and other popular bands were found.
The sound of The Principle of Moments fuses new wave rock with some elements of reggae and abstract motifs and is percussion heavy with sharp, high-pitched guitars, led by guitarist Robbie Blunt and drummer Phil Collins. While not as dynamic as in the heart of the Zeppelin years, Plant’s vocals are melodic and refined. The album’s title comes from the scientific Varignon’s Theorem, which states that the moment of any force is equal to the algebraic sum of the moments of the components of that force. With the experimental tracks on this album, Plant seems to be declaring his independence from the Zeppelin sound and celebrating his own “moment” in time.
Although not officially released as a single, the opener “Other Arms” reached number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Musically, the song continues the style of Pictures at Eleven, melodic and heavy on the chorus backing vocals, a long way from the improvised arrangements of Zeppelin’s early days. “In the Mood” (which was officially released as a single) follows and marks the point where the album starts to distinguish itself. Built on bassist Paul Martinez’s very simple yet infectious bass line, with Blunt’s simple, strummed chords on top and a strong percussion presence by Collins in contrast to laid back music and vocals. Plant’s melody rhythm is almost like blue-eyed rap and this translated into a Top 40 single on the pop charts.
Keyboardist Jezz Woodroffe shines brightest on the ballad “Through with the Two Step”, where Plant’s melodic verse vocals drip with melancholy sweetness to the waltz of Woodroffe’s wafty keyboards and in contrast to Blunt’s excellent lead later in the song. “Horizontal Departure” is a very upbeat and entertaining, sex-infused rock song, like a new wave version of Zeppelin;s “Whole Lotta Love”. Again Collins has a very strong and dynamic performances on drums, contrasting against the very measured riffs of Blunt and Martinez.
The album’s biggest hit is the closer “Big Log”. Reflective and somber, this is a mature song in every respect, musically, lyrically and production-wise. It employs some of the better synth-era techniques – the rubber kick effect, snappy top beat – along with well refined guitars, a swell of long synths, and vocal choruses by session singers John David and Ray Martinez. But this song is a true showcase for Robbie Blunt, one of rock’s forgotten great guitarists, whose cleaver latin phrasing leaves the most indellible mark in this truly unique composition.
The Principle of Moments includes a trio of experimental songs. “Messin’ With the Mekon” starts with an almost Jimmy Page-like riff before giving way to a moderate Caribbean groove with measured beats, although the arrangement does seems hollow when trying too hard to fit odd pieces together. “Wreckless Love” contains a mixture of electronic and Middle Eastern textures and other highly experimental arrangement that only gels due to Plant’s strong melody. The song features Barriemore Barlow, formally of Jethro Tull, on drums, as does “Stranger Here…Then Oven There”. Another experimental song with some brilliant verse vocals, this song also suffers from too many superfluous effects and arrangements, which do little more than interrupt the reggae beat and flow of the song’s core.
With two Top 10 albums under his belt, Plant launched a successful tour in late 1983, taking the stage for the first time since Zeppelin’s Knebworth concerts in 1979. In the following years Plant would work with his former bandmates sporadically, starting with the short-lived oldies project The Honeydrippers, while continuing to build his solo career.
If the last album was mood music, then this one is triple and quadruple mood music. Maybe that’s why the only song on it that I really like is called ‘In The Mood’! It’s an innocent little danceable shuffle with well-placed funk bass and somewhat unannoying synth backgrounds.
Of course, Robert lies through his teeth when he chants ‘I’m in the mood for melody, I’m in the mood for melody’, because we all know “Robert Plant” and “melody” stand at two different ends of the cognoscentia spectrum, but let’s just assume he’s chanting ‘I’m in the mood’ and everything falls back in the proper place. Right away! I really like the way he sounds on this track, and Blunt’s little guitar arpeggios in the instrumental section are quite tasteful as well.
But really, the song’s an exception. Most of the rest is just the same – endless murky sticky drones which are probably intended to suppress your psyche, and they do, but not because it’s all so deep and emotionally rich, rather because it’s so badly executed. Come now, the biggest song on here was ‘Big Log’.
Does it even have anything like a melody? It’s typical Eighties adult pop, moody and a little dark, with drum machines, soft guitars that say nothing, heavenly synth backgrounds and vocals that could care less about whether they’re hook-oriented or not. Of course, when Robert Plant uses his most majestic sounding tone to begin a song with the glorious line ‘My love is in league with the freeway!’, that’s supposed to rule, right? That’s coolness epitomized, isn’t it? Let’s see how I can top this, hmm… ‘My love has a way with angels!’ ‘My love does not care about flowing!’ ‘My love lays its rules with a blessing!’ ‘My love is in touch with the North wind!’ See?
Now go ahead and tell me who of us is more poetically gifted. Oh, okay, I admit that according to these rules, it is possible to mock every single line ever written by anybody, but fact is, if there’s anything that catches your attention on ‘Big Log’, it’s this pompous start, and that’s totally ready-dick-ulous.
Out of the rockers, the only two that somehow manage to stand out (half an inch each, no more) are ‘Other Arms’ and, I think, yeah, it’s the one called ‘Horizontal Departure’. ‘Other Arms’ has a bunch of gritty metallic descending riffs in between the verses, and the ‘lay down your arms!’ call that Plant howls out from time to time until it becomes repetitive ad nauseam for some reason reminds me of ‘lay down your arms and surrender to me…’. Remember that silly tune covered by the Beatles on the Live At The BBC album? Boy, one sure picks up odd associations when listening to Robert Plant.
Although come to think of it, the melody’s mainly just been ripped off of Ray Charles’ ‘Unchain My Heart’ (a MUCH better song). As for ‘Horizontal Departure’, it’s very tedious in the verses section, but at least it has this fast semi-catchy chorus that’s oh so stingy Eighties-pop it hurts, but hey, for a drop of catchiness! For a little piece o’ rock stickin’ out from under the dirty water! Spoiled, polluted by generic production values and total lack of musical ideas! And a Phil Collins on drums on top! And God only knows on what else!
It’s kinda hard for me to say at least anything about the other four songs. I remember for sure that I didn’t vomit while they were on – although, frankly speaking, I’m not so certain about the capacity of my memory at the moment, and it could well be that I have simply spent all the contents of my stomach on the preceding album. But I sure as hell can’t really remember even if they were rockers or ballads, although I did give it the required three listens. I suppose it was some kind of ‘average’ between the two – ballad-resembling rockers, or rockin’-potential ballads. And the length, the length, it just kills… five minutes is normal for a song on here, but when each song has one or two different ideas at best, it HURTS. It saws through your brain, spoils your mood, sucks out all the life energy, I won’t even mention what these songs have done to my AURA. Suffice it to say that about 50% of that stuff is further untalented ‘Kashmir’ rip-offs, and the other 50% is weather channel music.
I sure wouldn’t object from having Robbie Blunt play in my band if I had one… some of his guitar parts are very tastefully done, but I would certainly want him to play something different. Oh, and did I say ‘Kashmir’ rip-offs? Not necessarily so. On ‘Thru’ With The Two Step’, for instance, I think I hear obvious ‘I’m Gonna Crawl’ references in tone and mood. But that’s more a pure and dry statement of fact than an actual endorsement of any kind.
So it’s an eight, and a rather weak one at that – and frankly speaking, I REALLY don’t understand how the hell a song as jello-like as ‘Big Log’ could ever become a hit single. Due to the ambiguous title? ‘In The Mood’, that’s a different matter. It has some potential. Whatever.
Final delirious note: the most obnoxious thing on the album is the final section to ‘Stranger Here… Than Over There’, where the band goes for a stupid imitation of the ‘orgasmic’ section on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and Plant even stoops to whining ‘push… push…’ a couple of times. Jimmy must have wanted to get an overdose upon hearing that.
Robert Plant’s second solo outing shares more than a few things with its predecessor. It was recorded at the famous Welsh studio Rockfield and featured most of the Pictures at Eleven band, including a moonlighting Phil Collins on drums. As with Pictures, its production was as polished and clinical as the early Led Zeppelin sound was primal and thunderous.
But this time Plant managed a big hit – with Big Log – and promoted it with a clip for the now-essential televisual shop window that was MTV. He even performed the song on Top of the Pops, that biggest of Led Zeppelin no-nos.
Big Log was radically un-Zeppelin-like, a piningly slow song of aching love that combined ancient and modern – Roy Orbison with a drum machine. Robbie Blunt’s Spanish-tinged guitar shapes sat somewhere between Ennio Morricone and Mark Knopfler as the drum machine clacked and Jezz Woodroffe’s keyboard hummed sweetly in the distance. John David and Ray Martinez provided warm vocal harmonies.
Similarly low-key though far funkier was second single In the Mood, an invitation to dance and a hypnotic musing on the spell of music itself. Blunt’s flaking fills again provided the track’s melodic hook. Woodroffe’s wafty keyboards were the star on the pretty, slow-dance Thru’ with the Two-Step. On all of these, Plant’s vocals were striking for their mature restraint; but then he probably couldn’t have belted out Immigrant Song in 1983 if he’d wanted to.
More strained and contrived as declarations of post-Zeppelin independence were the Indian-imbued Wreckless Love and the jerky sub-Police semi-reggae of Messin’ with the Mekon. Stranger Here… Than Over Here is clunkily percussive, a melodically limp 80s experiment that fails to take off meaningfully.
The Principle of Moments got Plant back on the road for the first time since Zeppelin. Backed by the band that played on it – including Collins – he toured America on an old propeller plane through the summer and early fall of 83. Come November, he walked on to a British stage, at the Glasgow Apollo, for the first time since Zeppelin’s Knebworth concerts in 1979.