Monday, November 08, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Manic Nirvana,’ Robert Plant (1990)

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.

Here Robert Plant trades ’80s pop for his take on late-’80s hair metal. And you know what? It works! “Manic Nirvana” plays like Plant’s answer to the pop/metal bands dominating radio at the time: Motley Crue, Poison, etc. … in an ironic moment, the bands who took Zeppelin-style riffs and smoothed them out for the masses. It’s all about being big: big guitars, big drums, big sound, big talk about sex … big fun.

Sure, it may cause eyes to roll at times, but at least Plant returns to the Golden God strut that was the hallmark of his younger days. The huge rocker “Big Love,” for instance, takes a run at “The Lemon Song” for most flogging of a double entrendre.

That’s only the first half of the CD, though. The rest of “Manic Nirvana” is quite diverse, kicking off with the outstanding title track, “Nirvana,” which starts with a Red Hot Chili Peppers growl before exploding into a bouncy INXS-esque riff. “Tie Dye on the Highway” follows, a swirling, majestic track that counters the bright “Nirvana” with a dash of darkness.

Plant returns to his blues roots with the massive “Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night,” and the more reserved “Liars Dance.” The latter, one of the shortest tracks in Plant’s solo career at just 2 minutes 35 seconds, is a sparse affair that reminds of a slowed-down “Gallows Pole.” The album closes with yet another twist, as “Watching You” unleashes pounding tribal drums that hint at Plant’s turn in this direction in coming years.

A move away from the studio excesses of the 1980s, this was easily Plant’s best solo album to this point and a harbinger of great work to come. By comparison, it makes me want to go back and downgrade everything he’d done before. Other than “The Honeydrippers,” it’s also the first must-have CD of Plant’s solo career.

Grade: B+

Favorite Track: “Nirvana”

Least Favorite Track: “I Cried”

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