Robert Plant – The Principle of Moments

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Robert Plant’s second solo venture was something of a departure from his first, but not much. Both were recorded at the same recording studio in Wales, with Plant deciding to retain the same group of musicians and production personnel. And just like its predecessor, the album had a sound that was more sterile and microbe-free than a dentist’s clinic. But underneath all the gloss and new-wave production, at least the man still knew how to rock, although in a way that was in complete contrast to what he was usually famous for.

Opener “Other Arms” is your typical ‘80s style rocker, to the extent that one gets the impression that the producer had soaked the master tapes in a bucket of disinfectant before sending it off to the pressing plant, thus cleansing it of any potentially offending imperfections. What prevents the song from being completely innocuous are Plant’s vocals, as well as Robbie Blunt’s superb guitar, which is quite intricate in places. Next is “In the Mood”, and is what Led Zeppelin might have sounded like if they had of chosen to continue after the death of John Bonham, ditching all their heavy artillery and instead replacing it with a more relaxed, synth-driven ambience. The song itself just seems to waft along like polyester clouds, thanks to the laid back bass-line (courtesy of Paul Martinez), and Blunt’s dreamy, almost hypnotic chords. Plant isn’t half bad either, convincing the listener that he really is “in the mood”. Although what he’s really in the mood for is something I’ve never quite been able to identify. Is it sex, or maybe a bit of Four Tops? Who knows.

“Messin’ with the Mekon” begins promisingly before slowing down to a synthetically treated crawl. Along the way there are some Jimmy Page-like moments, although the whole thing seems rather awkward and hollow. The Indian influenced “Reckless Love” is far more entertaining, but comes across as a song in search of an arrangement, or maybe an arrangement in search of a song. I’m not sure. One thing’s certain, the production doesn’t exactly help matters, even if it was a step in the right direction for Plant, artistically speaking. “Through with the Two Step” is a keyboard dominated number (which might have seemed innovative for the day, but now just sounds cheesy), and finds Plant in reflective balladeering mode, urging his woman to “stay til the sun comes… baby please don’t go”. Was it that his marriage was on the rocks, or simply a plaintive cry for the top 40? So many unanswered questions.

The uninspired “Horizontal Number” is a buoyant, upbeat number, where Plant and Co. get to break out in their popped collars and parachute pants and prove that they could rock with the best of them, albeit in pathetically anaemic fashion, to the point where it reminds me of the sort of song one might have encountered on the soundtrack of some banal and insipid ‘80s film which nowadays few people can remember, while those who can are embarrassed that they ever went to the cinema to see it in the first place. “Stranger Here… Than Over There” starts off conventionally enough, before breaking out into more experimental territory toward the end. Somewhere amongst all the synthesizers and treated guitar Plant (perhaps unconsciously or by natural instinct) allows himself for a moment or two to revisit and channel some Zeppelin moments here and there, just like the old days.

The final track is not only the best song on the album, but my personal favourite, the sentimental “Big Log”. Now what the title actually means I have no idea (perhaps he put a log on the fire one night, looked into the burning embers and came up with the lyrics, only he can say), suffice to say that whenever I hear this tune (which is rarely), I feel myself begin to drift off in the moment, reflecting on other times, or possibly times that are yet to exist. Regardless it is an excellent piece, especially Blunt’s guitar, which gives the composition a somewhat subtle Latin feel, and are in complete balance with the keyboards, which are fortunately restrained and complement the overall arrangement perfectly. Plant’s voice is also subdued, and philosophical in timbre as well as texture.

The remastered edition consists of four bonus tracks, three of which were recorded live in Houston, Texas in 1983, and provide an insight into what Robert’s solo tours sounded like (basically Led Zeppelin meets The Thompson Twins), while the fourth is a decent enough bluesy number which actually comes off better than some of the tracks that were selected for the actual album.

The Principle of Moments not only galvanised Plant musically but also got him in the charts, seeing him tour again and finding confidence not only within himself as a singer but as a performer, something which he hadn’t done since Led Zeppelin called it quits three years earlier (and for good reasons too I might add). Plant well understood that things could never be the same as it was now that the glorious Zep days were over, and so logically decided to embark on a very different ship, one that bore scant resemble to the one he was previously on, except of course for Blunt’s Page-like riffs, and naturally that voice, which could never be truly tamed no matter how hard he tried. Fortunately later on in the decade he would choose to embrace once again his roots, and not be unwilling to roar like the lion he really was. But it took time. And this album was merely one step leading to that process, and eventually a reunion with Jimmy Page himself. But that’s another review for another day.