Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant - When The World Was Young

Despite being underappreciated Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s Unledded live album “No Quarter” was a big enough success to reignite the average rock and roll fan’s interest in new Led Zeppelin content, as well as inspire confidence enough in record producers to invest in new original material written by Page and Plant. The end result was the only studio album Jimmy Page and Robert Plant ever recorded together as a duo act, 1998’s “Walking Into Clarksdale.”

For the sake of thoroughness it should probably be noted that Jimmy Page did collaborate with Robert Plant on most of his solo albums, and Robert Plant lent his voice to at least one song on Jimmy Page’s solo album, so “Walking Into Clarksdale” was not exactly a new concept when examining the actions of both men nearly two decades after the breaking up of Led Zeppelin, but it is the only official time they worked together as a due to produce a studio album credited to both of them.

“No Quarter” was underappreciated, but “Walking Into Clarksdale” was criminally underappreciated.

According to the records “Walking Into Clarksdale” was well received in Europe, but when it came out I could not find anyone, aside from my big brother, who had bothered listening to it, and I mean at all, and that is still true even to this day. It would appear that even the most diehard Led Zeppelin fans have no idea what “Walking Into Clarksdale” is, and I often wonder why that is.

It might have something to do with the fact that the sound on “Walking Into Clarksdale” is very different from the Led Zeppelin classics. The early day works of Led Zeppelin were hard rock, even some metal fans try to claim Led Zeppelin as “early metal,” even though the later albums were beginning to show a sign of slowing down. Come 1998 the music Page and Plant were interested in creating was significantly slower and moodier than what they created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and people who fail to realize that people change with time, apparently held that against the album. Newsflash, virtually everyone calms in their later years, most musicians and their body of work show this.

Another thing that I suspect might of have hurt “Walking Into Clarksdale’s” commercial reception was the choice of single, “Most High,” a song which I feel is the absolute middle mediocre example of what the album has to offer. However apparently “Most High” did win an award of some kind, so what the hell do I know? Also the title track left a lot to be desired by me, and I imagined others feel the same, it was a disjointed song, decent, not great, and along with “Most High” these would be the probably first two tracks the casual audience was exposed too. Meanwhile the best songs on the album went unnoticed, songs like “Blue Train” a heartfelt final goodbye by Robert Plant towards his son who died in a car accident many years ago; or “When I Was A Child” a gloomy song about growing older and the illusion of innocence dying; or “Shinning A Little Light” an upbeat love; or “Heart In Your Hand” a dark desperate song about putting, well, your heart in someone else’s hands; last we have the song of the hour “When The World Was Young.”

Sometimes it is easy to pick a favorite song off an album.

“When The World Was Young” is a fantastic song. It is reminiscent of Zeppelin classics like “In The Light” or “Ten Years Gone.” It has that sort of grandiose epic quality to it with great rising action, that I always love, slow methodical beginnings with a gradual increase in intensity climaxing with a dramatic rock and roll assembly of layered sounds and ending with a slowing outro. I really enjoy Jimmy Page’s guitar work in this song, after every verse there is a nice short flare of strums that really stand out and give the song a great flow, and it is also a song that is comprised mostly of unique note pickings which make it akin to a classic guitar song, which I am very fond of.

We would normally not think of a song like “When The World Was Young” as a heavy drum song but there is something worthy of mention about the drums in “When The World Was Young.” Songs like “When The World Was Young” are emotional and tender, so a heavy rhythm section is the last thing we would expect, but by the time the climax of the song comes along Michael Lee’s drums have picked up to an agreeably rock solid pace and Charlie Jones’ bass is in there too intensifying the volume, the emotion and the whole song. Working with gods like Page and Plant we are likely to forget who Jones and Lee are, so it is only fair we give them the credit they deserve for their part in “When The World Was Young” as well as the rest of the album “Walking Into Clarksdale.”

Examining the lyrics we are once again, as usual when studying the mind of Robert Plant, met with a great openness for interpretation. Any number of potentially mythical or impossible beings may be referenced. I like to think the song is about an immortal “I’ve been here since all time began” and “my footsteps through eternity.” Or course this being Robert Plant the lyrics are about love, only this time maybe an ancient lost love.

“I saw you,
I knew you,
I touched you,
When the world was young.”

This simple, yet powerful, chorus just sends my mind into a cosmic dance of ideas. Is it about an immortal, or maybe a god, reminiscing about someone they once knew? Maybe I got it backwards and it is about an aged mortal human reminiscing about their long ago contact with a magical being, when the world seemed young. Again though I like to invoke the element of romance, and think this is a song about a long lost love. The chasm of experience between youth and older age can seem like a worldly long time.

I used to think the chorus was saying “him” not “you,” and this gave me two possible ideas about who “him” was. I thought perhaps it was a god, or just god if you prefer, and Plant was singing about some religious experience, or, perhaps more personally entwined, I thought it possible that Plant was singing about his lost son, the one who died in a car accident, the same one he is singing about in “Blue Train.” I do not think these two theories work however, because the earlier exploration of romance just fits too well, “home of my heart, take me dancing.”

For these reasons, as well as a bunch of other I may have lacked the insight of elegance to elaborate on are why it is easy to understand why “When The World Was Young” is a great song. It is the masterpiece of Page and Plant’s later career and it stands as the triumphant gem off of an album that is filled with very majestic tracks of matured minds. Not only does “When The World Was Young” stand alone as a get song, but it harkens back to the sort of Zeppelin produced on “Physical Graffiti,” and not only that it is the epitome of why later day works by Page and Plant should not be overlooked. It is the single biggest reason why “Walking Into Clarksdale” is an underrated album.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant - Wonderful One

Led Zeppelin is the best thing that ever happened. That is not hyperbole.

Sometimes people actually argue what was the greatest classic rock band of all time, and the other nominees are typically The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd, all of which are insanely awesome bands, but I am very steadfast in my opinion that Led Zeppelin takes the prize and in a big way.

The only real argument that might hold some ground as to how Led Zeppelin is not the greatest band of all time, is the idea that after John Bonham died Led Zeppelin never did much, which is true because the band never came back together with a new drummer to make any new material, however, if you think Jimmy Page and Robert Plant simply spent the last thirty six years staring at the walls of their gothic-Celtic castles you would be very wrong.

Robert Plant has had ten solo albums since Led Zeppelin, which is one more then there are Zeppelin studio albums. Meanwhile Jimmy Page had a single solo album in 1988 titled “Outrider” and collaborated with Roy Harper, The Firm, David Coverdale and The Black Crows on studio and live albums. All of these things flew under the radar of the popular listening audiences and this is understandable to a degree since none of these things Page or Plant contributed too captured the perfection that was Led Zeppelin, except when Page and Plant worked together and unfortunately almost no one paid attention to that either.

Page and Plant reunited in 1994 and decided to perform many of the Led Zeppelin classics with a different style, a more acoustic style, with a Moroccan flare I believe. They never recorded these new realizations on a studio album, instead they took their idea on tour, to Morocco I guess, and recorded a live album titled “No Quarter” named after the popular song from 1973’s “Houses of The Holy.” The new style was slower and this ironically did not really work for the most famous songs off the album “Kashmir” and “No Quarter,” at least not in my opinion, but it did work for more emotional songs like “Thank You” and the “That’s The Way” and Page and Plant basically reinvented “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and for the better in my opinion.

All and all the recreation of the Zeppelin classics was largely a fine artistic endeavour, but that alone may not warrant a great deal of attention, and evidently we can see that it did not, and I wonder if the commercial success and popular appeal of the “No Quarter” album might have been strengthened if a greater emphasise to the original tracks had been made. There are three original tracks on the live recorded album and a forth on the DVD. “Yallah” or “The Truth Explodes” is the first to appear on the playlist and it is very influence by the Moroccans. “City Don’t Cry” is a very sweet tribal song about the love of the city and the spirits within. “Wah Wah” is the single that did not make it to the original recording and it falls into a similar vein as “Yallah.” The song that matters the most and I think deserves a lot more attention, even though it was a single off of the album, is “Wonderful One.”

“Wonderful One” is definitely the best new song, and quite believably the best track off of, “No Quarter.”

Sometimes the best sign of a really good musician is now they show restraint. We all know what Jimmy Page is capable of, how fast and intricate he can play, he is literally the best who has ever lived, so when he plays nothing but a collection of repeating guitar licks that dance about the mist of the steady drum beat, there is a reason for it, and that reason is that it is beautiful. The only deviation in any instrument during “Wonderful One” from the opening set pattern is the lead guitar during the chorus in which case it sounds like the same chord casually played with downward and upward strokes and nothing more, again further restraint show by Mr. Page, and again it works... wonderfully.

The song structure is dependent on the lyrics. The structure is very simple, verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, with the opening verse being the same as the last, brining the song back to continuity. It is within these lyrics where the deepest beauty of all rests.

Robert Plant has written many a sweet love song over the course of his life, but as far as sentimental emotional invocation is concerned, “Wonderful One” may be his best work. Another thing Robert Plant has frequently done is made vague reference to mythical persons, sometimes characters of literature and mythology, sometimes fantastic creatures of his own design. So when he sings about the Queen of Love and her daughter and a golden tongued thief, there could be any number of possible references Plant is making or just a magical scenario he has conjured up all on his own. Dappling with magical suggestions in what amounts to be a love song is highly effective at making, arguably the most powerful human emotion, seem all the more grandiose; this is perhaps felt best in the moving chorus:

“Show me your eyes,
Oh light of the sun.
Touch me with fire,
My mind is undone.
All life inspire,
My freedom has come.
I drift through desire,
My wonderful one.”

“My wonderful one,” is a lovely way to refer to someone you love, it has a nice ring to it.

Robert Plant is hardly the first poet to compare a woman to the sun, but there is some added charm the way this woman lifts the narrative character into a higher state of being. Embracing freedom and conquering desire are signs of enlightenment, and this ties in perfectly with our romantic notions of how love changes everything, for the better, and what a wonderful fantasy that is. This woman, and the love she represents, is the very light of the sun, shining inspiration and hope onto all of us, defying everything, making everything possible; or something like that.

It is a really nice song, listen to it.

- King of Braves