In 2002, Robert Plant was in his own world, recovered from blockbuster tours with Jimmy Page, summarizing his musical influences and writing his new material.
Or at least new some material—Dreamland works mostly in covers, but the material was no less reinvigorating. Moving past the arena scream of his late-eighties work, the album put him in the mood to be moody. Brooding and dark, these words continue to describe Mighty ReArranger. Waxing politics, religion and fate together, old man Plant continued to throw himself at albums with an energy enviable to his former forme d’or.
Perhaps it’s because he tapped into the Zeppelin swagger and teamed it with his wizened world and folk influence. Perhaps it’s because old age crafted new fences around which a creative mind needs to examine a new approach.
Certainly, Plant’s voice lowered in tone—no man, however golden, can survive three-plus decades hollering and leaping: “hey, hey, mama, I say the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove. Eventually, that heavy mama will break the trampoline. Eventually, the speaker will blow out. Plant’s voice thus moved from black women wailing and tall tales of a rambler to the slow, low burning insights of a man who has seen the rock ‘n’ roll world for all it’s worth, all it’s false promise, all it’s real excess.
On Mighty ReArranger, Plant’s conceited view of rock ‘n’ roll’s excess mirrors a startling truth: the excess of the real world. Political, social, spiritual—2005 was a year of continued excess. Post-Cold War promises of peace sterling turned to fool’s gold in the form of interventionist wars. Instead of ideology, the world fought concepts. Terror, consumerism, climate change, all ideas unseen, but still real.
Thematically, the “Mighty Rearranger” is a mythical figure guiding the fate humanity and all along the lyrics Plant wonders if the only true human theme is conflict. Plant and his new backing band the Strange Sensation wonder how holy cities of paradise continue to transform into living hells. A pessimist’s “What’s Going On” with a bounding bendir beat and a bassline as nasty as the wars around it, Plant swoons over the damage done by families of one tribe to families of “Another Tribe.”
Gliding over Liam “Skin” Tyson’s slide guitar, Plant wonders if these tribes—mayhap sworn enemies—can still break bread with each other. Feasting on the imagery of “Shine It All Around,” it’s easy to wonder if fighting terror creates victim who know you as nothing but the image of terror.
But before long the slide gives way to a riff that sands the castle of dreams off the beach.
Leaving the beachside haven, but still in the Fertile Crescent, Plant waxes McLean’s heartland imagery with the scratching heat of Tyson’s filtered guitars and Billy Fuller’s bassline—ever erratic—to deliver a political scathing. Plant no longer needs the ghouls or the ghost of a departed Porl Thompson to scare listeners—just a material world confronted with immaterial questions; ethics to terrify the unethical. Lyrically, “Freedom Fries” represents the best phrase turning of Plant’s career:
“Freedom fries and burns and scars
The liberator goes too far
Freedom fries and screams and yells
The promised land is promised hell”
Nearly 800 years later Plant and his Strange Sensation turn jingoistic evangelism on its head and spin it dizzy. Now the crusade is cursed, everything goes the wrong way: the liberator is now the oppressor, freedom fries instead of feeds, promised lands “promise hell.”
When chewing on the carcass of political excess no longer feeds the Strange Sensation’s muse, they move on to the music industry. The “Nirvana” of the 90’s has caught up to Plant and made itself a companion to “One More Cup of Coffee” in “Tin Pan Valley.” Reverb, meet revulsion: the moody, reflective Moogs of John Baggot greet the machismo of gladiatorial rock. But it can’t be helped, even Plant wonders if these images are the fruits of his creative labor.
Mighty Rearranger tires itself out on these images in excess and wisely takes a step back. Plant decides to reopen his insights into the spiritual world. Instead of marooning himself on the work of the Mighty Rearranger, he muses on the myth itself. What occurs can only be described as Physical Graffiti resumed: the dunes of Bedouin roll and weave ahead, “Skin” Tyson shows some teeth with a lap steel guitar and Justin Adam gnashes with a tehardent, twanging sounds of Tuareg people tattoo “The Enchanter” up and down, scoring arcane harmonies and then—silence. But not for long, Baggot’s on the Moog again with a coda to rival Plant’s old warlock friend, John Paul Jones.
And by now Plant must be done, he has to be!
Yet no, after splitting the magic of the sky open, the Strange Sensation decides to touch the cosmos and “Dance in Heaven.” Featuring the swank and swagger of guitars on Houses of the Holy with the spin of Led Zeppelin III’s Welsh dervish, the cut then dips the toes into the pool of arena-era Plant.
From here, though the album gives its last gasps. By “Somebody Knocking,” the record cuts off a tehardent solo that deserved more respect. On “Let The Four Winds Blow” time changes confuse punk chords and result in a choppy piece. At least “Mighty Rearranger” features the return of the Baggot—his boogie-woogie fills paying for this track’s price in full. Out of all Strange Sensation, Baggot has the most fun by Plant’s side. Still, the cut aspires to touch heaven and the choral build makes contact.
By album’s end though, it feels Plant still is searching for his perfect solo album. Mighty Rearranger confirms he found his path, however, and sounds determined to follow it through.
Quick Impressions: This isn’t Plant’s best record. But it is a filling one and it is a feeling one. It’s also his only spiritual successor to his early-to-mid Zeppelin career. For that alone, it is to be recommended.
Producers: Phil Johnstone, Robert Plant, Mark Stent
Genre: Worldbeat, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock
- “Another Tribe”
- “Shine It All Around”
- “Freedom Fries”
- “Tin Pan Valley”
- “All The King’s Horses”
- “The Enchanter”
- “Dancing In Heaven”
- “Somebody Knocking”
- “Let The Four Winds Blow”
- “Mighty Rearranger”
- “Brother Ray”