Maturity becomes former cock-rock god on eighth solo album.

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Robert Plant & The Strange Sensation – Mighty Rearranger

There’s always a temptation when a significant artist returns with a decent album after a period of low-key activity to talk in over-excited terms of a ‘comeback’. Such reactions, though, are understandable in the case of Robert Plant. In the seven years since 1998’s disappointing Walking Into Clarksdale with Jimmy Page, he’s played semi-anonymously with pub band Priory Of Brion and made a highly enjoyable but unchallenging album of Covers (2002’s Dreamland).

Now comes Mighty Rearranger, an album of a dozen new compositions that sounds like the personal manifesto of a man who, once again, has much to get off the chest he used to bare so brazenly. Lyrically, he’s certainly got plenty to say. Three songs – “Another Tribe”, “Takamba” and the brilliant “Freedom Fries” (“And burns and scars”) – provide a concerned commentary on the post 9/11 world. “Tin Pan Valley” is an honest analysis of the dangers of living on former glories and an attack on those who “flirt with cabaret” (take a tuxedoed bow, Rod Stewart?) or still “fake the rebel yell” (Sir Mick?). There are typical forays into mysticism (“The Enchanter”, “Dancing In Heaven”) and satisfying lyrical nods to his blues heroes (“Somebody Knocking”, “Let The Four Winds Blow”).

Musically, all his eclectic passions are represented, from rock riffs (“Shine It All Around”) and blues wailing (the title track) to burnished West Coast filigree (“Dancing In Heaven”) and Zep III-style acoustics (the stunning “All The King’s Horses”), via Arabic and North African influences “Another Tribe”, “Takamba”). Often, these diverse elements collide in unexpected and thrilling fashion. As for his voice, Plant reckons it’s the best he’s ever sung. From time to time he unleashes that open-throated, leonine roar, just to show he still can. But he also deploys a lot of subtle shading and nuance. Call it a comeback, if you like. The simple truth is that as a mature statement by someone who’s done it all but still retains a desire to create something new and fresh, Mighty Rearranger is a record of considerable depth, admirable adventure and surprising passion. If anyone from today’s crop of bands is making music half as interesting as this in 30 years time, we will be blessed, indeed.

By Nigel Williamson