In 2005, at the age of 57, Robert Plant had a lot to say although a hell of a lot less to prove. And on Mighty Rearranger, the singer’s eighth solo album, he demonstrated that not only was he still capable of roaring from the highest mountains, but also through the deepest valleys. In fact, I’d go so far as to declare that this is arguably the man’s best album since his days with Led Zeppelin (not that I would say that to his face mind you). And while his post Zeppelin output overall hasn’t been what I’d describe as horrible (Dreamland, released in 2002, was clearly a return to form), Rearranger is light years ahead when compared to the vast bulk of his ‘80s albums. But then again, one can’t necessarily blame the man himself, since the production values of that particular decade were never going to be kind to someone who was raised on a diet of four track technologies. Not that it was ever meant to be, but imagine the likes of John Bonham thundering away on a set of those electric drum kits which all those new wave groups were so partial to? My bet is that the entire apparatus would have disintegrated in about the same time as it took to plug it in.
The moment the tribal drums kick in, Robert Plant makes it obviously clear that he’s a musical warrior, and on “Another Tribe” the man’s social and political conscious is pricked and primed like Dirty Harry’s 44 Magnum aimed at those who enjoy the privilege of power. On “Shine It All Around” Plant reaches back to his Zeppelin roots, unashamedly so, and wails away, belying his age in the process. The intensity continues with the politically charged “Freedom Fries”, clearly a stab at the Bush administration and American Hegemony in general, followed by the strange and modern sounding “Tin Pan Alley”, which has Plant commenting on how he has outgrown the superficial world of pop/rock stardom. It’s definitely the heaviest track he’s recorded since the late ‘70s. “All the Kings Horses” has a “Going Back To California” aspect to it, while Robert’s voice is a blessing to behold, even in old age. And the rest of the musicians aren’t too bad either.
We get all heavy on “The Enchanter”, which could be a soundtrack to Coleridge’s Christabel in terms of theme and atmosphere for all I know. Certainly it’s one of the most epic things he’s done since “Kashmir”. The Eastern tones continue with “Takamba”, an inspired tune where Plant forces the band to work for their money, and the sort of thing Led Zeppelin may have sounded like if John Bonham hadn’t of perished. And speaking of Bonham, “Dancing in Heaven” has Plant’s band reaching for the tallest instrumental peaks, while still living in the 1970’s. Plenty of Page moments on this one, whether Plant is capable of admitting it or not.
Plant goes all Ravi Shankar meets ‘60’s rock, with a little acid thrown in. Whether it’s Skin Tyson or Justin Adams playing guitar, it’s all extremely reminiscent of Jimmy Page with a touch of John Lee Hooker thrown in for good measure. I guess you can’t get away from your past, no matter how hard you try. The band keep the momentum running on “Let the Four Winds Blow”, all played in a style which is old fashioned and yet brand new at the same time.
On the title song, Plant and the band act as conveyers of the past, conjuring the ghosts of Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley, maybe even Scotty Moore, looking for his Mystery Train somewhere in Memphis.
The album ends on a bit of a strange note, with “Brother Ray”, which isn’t weird in itself, because it’s nothing but a bit of earthy, organic jamming that is taking place. What I don’t get is the spacey techno hybrid tune. As if we all have the inclination to host a Rave party in our own living room. Actually, it’s a bit of digital dog shit if you ask me.
For all Plant’s musical misdemeanours in the ‘80’s, on Mighty Rearranger he redeems himself in spades, with plenty of change left over. That it took him so long to revisit his inner Thor and Percy of old is a question best left to him. Suffice it to say, this is undoubtedly the most rewarding and satisfying album of his entire solo oeuvre, a record which rewards the listener on repeated listens and then some. For anyone who wants to hear the Plant of yore, albeit with a twist of the new, then you can’t go wrong on this.