Solo projects can go several ways. Often you’ll find albums that are incredibly similar to the sound of the original group, just repackaged under a different name. In other cases, the solo artist goes down a different route and tries something new, but you quickly realise that without the rest of the band they don’t particularly set the world alight. Sometimes, however, solo projects can be quite different but really quite good.
Robert Plant is a British rock veteran, but the former Led Zeppelin front man is also no stranger to the solo world. Carry Fire is the singer’s 11th solo album and continues on a theme set out in the well-received 10th release, Lullaby and… The Careless Roar. In this latest project, Plant skillfully crafts a melting pot of world sounds including African grooves, strings, crunchy guitar, as well as subtle electronic pads. All this combines to create a spacious bed for the warm vocals to sit atop.
Lyrically, many of the songs are slightly dark ballads of love, but Plant does dabble with some contentious political issues. Until recently he lived in America and this offers an interesting transatlantic perspective on things. In ‘New World’ there is reference to colonial activities of the past whilst in ‘Carving the World Again… a Wall and not a Fence’ and ‘Bones of Saints’, Plant comments on the global divisions that are being carved out.\
Plant's voice has mellowed somewhat since the Led Zep days
It is the music on this album and the way that it interplays with the vocals that is the real selling point. Plant’s voice has mellowed somewhat since the Led Zep days. Whereas once you’d often hear him singing high pitched melodies that would cut through a heavy bed of distorted guitars, such as in ‘Kashmir’, this album offers quite the opposite. Carry Fire sees a far more delicate and gentle vocal but there is no danger of this not cutting through the music.
Every instrument, including the voice, is given its own space. Many of the tracks have a lot going on but they don’t sound busy. In the title track ‘Carry Fire’ we hear complex and aggressive sounds of Middle Eastern strings layered over African drum grooves with synth swells, but it all works together. At other points there are some incredibly warm soundscapes created. ‘Season’s Song’ has a great balance of sound with smooth vocals seeping over the top. As Plant sings of long nights and winter weather you can’t help but feel enveloped in a warm musical blanket.
Its refreshing to hear music from so many different cultures sit so well together
Robert Plant will always be remembered as the singer from Led Zeppelin, and there are definite hints of that throughout the album, but Carry Fire is not a Led Zeppelin album. The album is truly global and, at a time when every country seems to be pulling up the drawbridge, it’s refreshing to hear music from so many different cultures sit together so well in Plant’s arrangements.