Throughout the 1980’s Robert Plant seemed to spend a lot of time and energy avoiding his former past, as if embarrassed by what his own legacy had spawned. But how was he to know that once songs such as “Communication Breakdown” and “Whole Lotta Love” were released into the musical ether, that there would soon be a new generation of younger copy cats just waiting in the wings. Bands like Styx and Whitesnake come to mind, especially the latter, whose lead singer, a one David Coverdale (who used to sing in Deep Purple), Plant could have probably taken to court and sued over his similar vocal style. Def Leppard, Bon Joni, Guns & Roses, the list is as long as your mother is old. Basically boys and girls, what all this is telling us, is that for any hormonally charged rock and roll singer in the making, if you want to pull the birds, you’ve got to pull up your zip, restrict the blood supply to your nether parts, and learn how to roar it out the way old Percy used to do it; because back in the day Plant was virtually a hard-on in tight jeans and high heeled boots, the original rock lion with a mane to match.
However by 1993 it appeared to be obvious that Plant could no longer ignore his heritage, and that it was time to reclaim his mantle as one of the greatest English rock singers who has ever lived. But that he did, on Fate of Nations, an album that serves as a bridge between his past as well as his future.
The LP opens with “Calling to You”, a song which is about the closest thing to Led Zep he’d done since 1980, and is a hint at what they may have sounded like in later years. Like a cross between “Kashmir” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, it’s an absolute corker, and a great way to get things going. Likewise “Down to the Sea”, another highly charged middle-eastern rocker, where Plant opens his lungs and proves that he still has what it takes. “Come into my Life” retains a few of those production values which may have marred some of his ‘80s efforts, in other words big drums, and even bigger synths, which overall serve to numb the experience of the listener.
As touching as the sentiment of the song might be, I just can’t get past all the high-tech sounding instruments. I guess many of these musicians believed that this would be the way albums would be made in the future and forever more: none of that 16 track bullshit for them. How wrong they were. And “29 Palms” is a perfect example of how to fuck up a really good tune with modern technology. Take a ticket at the rock and roll deli, and tell me that popular music didn’t sound better when it was at it’s more basic? Imagine The Kinks “You Really Got Me” recorded in the ‘80’s?
“Memory Song” reminds me of another song Zeppelin never got to record, and their legacy is all the poorer for it. Lots of heavy drums, and a main riff right out of the Jimmy Page song book, not to mention plenty of “C’mon, C’mon, C’mon” cries from Plant himself, as if his testicles were about to explode, just like the old days. Not bad for someone in middle age. Now if there was ever a song hand-made for Robert Plant it would be “If I Were A Carpenter”. The strings are a bit unnecessary I have to say, however if you can put aside that one gratuitous aspect, Plant puts in a superb vocal performance on what should have been a more folky affair. I guess he was looking for a hit single. We get all grungy and bluesy on “Colors Of A Shade”, which contains some of Plant’s best vocals since he sang on “When the Levee Breaks”, from Led Zeppelin IV.
On “Promised Land” we’re plunged into soundtrack world, replete with classical arrangements and Brian May-like guitar, all of it expressed in a grandiose moment of overblown testosterone. “The Greatest Gift” resembles Paul Weller, and the album is all the better for it, in my opinion; because this is the sort of thing the record could have benefited from, had there have been more of it. Plant’s voice is as smooth as satin, and floats out of your speakers like water down the Nile. “Great Spirit” is a fine rock song and hints at greater things to come. While the album ends with the folkish “Network Song”, another good tune ruined by over-production, no matter how expressive Plant’s voice might be.
As a wise man once said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men”, and I am sure that Robert Plant has had his fair share of those moments. What can be said is that Fate of Nations is itself one of those moments, at least as far Plant is expressing as well as colouring his emotions with what his listeners loved the most. No matter the production, just to hear Robert belt it out as he did in the old days was enough. MTV’s UnLedded and “No Quarter” album would be just around the corner, so perhaps Nations was the perfect warm up?