If someone asked you to describe what a rock-god looks like, chances are you’d describe a jean-clad, twenty-something-year-old man with a mane of long, wild hair, chest bared underneath an open shirt, and dripping as much charisma as sweat as he bounces around the stage. In other words, Robert Plant as he was in the ‘70s when he fronted the legendary Led Zeppelin. Now, as a sixty-nine-year-old, Plant may be greyer and a little softer with age, his shirts buttoned up half-way, but as he releases his eleventh solo album, Carry Fire, he still cuts the image of a bona fide rock-star.
As with 2014’s lullaby….and the Ceaseless Roar, Plant is backed by The Sensational Space Shifters, who remain tight and engaging whether they are performing the folk-rock of The May Queen, the minimal and mournful tones of A Way With Words, or the middle-east inspired grooves of the eponymous Carry Fire. New World… considers the history of empire and colonialism, with its deleterious and dehumanising consequences for indigenous peoples, but its historicity also acts as a commentary on the contemporary problem of refugees and their treatment.
Another explicitly political song is Carving Up the World Again… A Wall and Not a Fence, which reflects on seemingly timeless issues of enemies without and within. It’s all just a little bit of history repeating, as Shirley Bassey might say. Plant teams up with The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde to turn Ersel Hickey’s Bluebirds over the Mountain into a duet. The pair’s voices prove to be rather complimentary, working well with the pseudo-industrial folk-rock provided by The Sensational Space Shifters, with fiddle provided by Seth Lakeman ensuring interest doesn’t wane over the song’s five-minute run.
Plant’s vocal performance lacks some of the dynamism of his youthful Led Zeppelin days, at times bordering on weak, as is the case with the wispy delivery on Season’s Song, and the lyrical content can verge on the banal. Yet despite these foibles, Carry Fire is quite the enjoyable record, illustrating that not all ageing rockers become unwitting self-parodies.