Whether or not Robert Plant’s new album, “lullaby and … The Ceaseless Roar,” sells 500,000 copies, in my humble opinion it establishes a new gold standard for mature artists attempting to make relevant contributions to their legacy.
Plant’s incomparable evolution from rockstar to shape-shifting roots-country-blues artist works on multiple levels. His singing is as confident as ever, certainly less grating and flamboyant than during his Led Zeppelin days. His songwriting is fresh and relevant, with pan-generational appeal. The production is simple, well within his vocal range and stylistic wheelhouse. He is the musical equivalent of baseball’s aging flamethrower who extends his career by becoming a finesse pitcher.
With apologies to professional music reviewers, here is my foot-deep, mile wide assessment and five-star rating of the recent work of Plant and his contemporaries:
* * * * * Plant’s contemporary addition to his Hall of Fame legacy epitomizes melodious longevity. Like a shark, he keeps moving forward to survive. Give his latest conquest five stars. I encourage you to buy this album now.
* * * * While other mature artists remain popular, none thus far matches Plant’s relevance. Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and P.J. Harvey, among other contemporaries remain true to themselves, their current offerings are at best reminiscent of their better, earlier work. Give them four stars.
* * * Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, David Bowie, Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders, and Paul McCartney earn three stars for producing material that is occasionally credible. But, unfortunately, who more often survive on the equity they’ve built amongst their loyal fans.
* * A step ahead of the equity survivalists on the road to artistic irrelevance is the sorry band of mature artists who’ve become self-parodies, trying desperately to recapture their past sound and fame. To no avail. Purely as a courtesy, give two stars to the mimicry of Crosby, Stills, Nash and even Neil Young, as well as John Fogerty and Yusuf/Cat Stevens.
* Finally, there are the bottom-feeders, the commercial sell-outs who phone it in for productions appealing to audiences even older than themselves. Didn’t you use to be Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker and Billy Joel? One star, move along, there’s nothing more of interest here.
At least in each of their defense, it can be said the worst new music is still a better listen than any tribute band.
On a final note, it is both interesting and sad to imagine whether John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Bob Marley and the other rock idols who died in their prime would have accrued Plant’s melodious longevity.