Monday, October 18, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Pictures at Eleven,’ Robert Plant (1982)

Author’s note: In honor of Robert Plant’s new album, “Band of Joy,” I’m going back through his entire solo career to see how he got to this point.

Much of Robert Plant’s first post-Led Zeppelin effort sounds, not surprisingly, like a Led Zeppelin album. Most of the songs included here remind of the over-produced latter-day Zep tracks, like they somehow got caught between the in and out doors.

One of the album’s best tracks, “Slow Dancer,” is a nearly eight-minute epic that comes across like a b-side combination of “Kashmir” and “For Your Life.” Opener “Burning Down One Side” is a dutiful cousin to “In the Evening,” while “Moonlight in Mamosa” is a (very) poor man’s attempt to recreate “The Rain Song.” The brightest spot is “Like I’ve Never Been Gone,” a hard-edged ballad with a twinkling guitar melody that recalls “All My Love.”

It’s easy to look back on these tracks nearly three decades later and dismiss them as subpar Zeppelin knockoffs. But if I put myself in the shoes of a Zep fan who just lost one of the greatest bands of all time, a collection like this probably would’ve felt like cool water in the desert. “Pictures at Eleven” is a darn good transition album for Plant, hinting at both his past and where he planned to go.

That’s the most unfortunate thing, though, because much of Plant’s production from the ’80s just wasn’t that good. Two songs in particular—“Pledge Pin” and “Fat Lip”—are examples of the shapeless, reverb-drenched, cheesy pop/rock filler that would dominate much of his immediate post-Zeppelin career. Luckily, though, those are exceptions rather than the rule on his sturdy solo debut.

Grade: B

Favorite Track: “Like I’ve Never Been Gone”

Least Favorite Track: “Pledge Pin”

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