For someone with the reputation as the greatest voice in rock bolstered by his association with a name like Led Zeppelin, it should have been difficult for a legend like Robert Plant to switch gears and separate himself from a genre that jolted him into the rock ‘n’ roll limelight and kept him there for over a decade. Since he’s gone solo, however, he has removed himself from under the shadow of the classic rock juggernaut seamlessly—he traded in larger-than-life vocals and rock-radio anthems for songs of experience, abounding with profound lyricism and diverse influences.
With Carry Fire, Plant enters into a forum of deep reflection, ruminating on where he’s been and what he’s felt and seen. He balances those songs of times remembered with cautionary ballads about the future, all through the exploration of musical elements from around the world with the help of his band, the aptly named Sensational Space Shifters.
While he continues to move farther away from the thundering rock of Zeppelin, he keeps with a theme of mixing the old with the new and pays homage to his past with Carry Fire’s opening track and lead single, “The May Queen,” whose namesake is a lyric from “Stairway to Heaven,” but the nostalgia stops there: while the Zeppelin classic starts out modestly, “The May Queen” comes out in full rhythmic force. Plant’s breathy vocalizations surrendering to feelings of romanticism ushers listeners in through Eastern-tinged rhythm and twang, presenting the inaugural taste of the cultures that lie within the rest of the album. These influences are also wildly heard in the title track, in which the Space Shifters bring together an oud and a bendir to serve as an extrinsic vehicle for more declarations of love.
Then tender offerings of “Seasons Song” and “Dance With You Tonight” also set out to contemplate romance—in both, Plant’s poignant croon is reinforced with even more delicate backing vocalizations from his Space Shifters. Immediately after, the mood shifts when Plant gets a little more forceful, almost to the point of rambling, in “Carving Up the World Again… A Wall and Not a Fence,” tackling issues of nationalism and immigration, along with with the spirited, pop harmonies of “New World.” For “Bluebirds Over the Mountain,” Robert Plant manages to completely transform Ersel Hickey’s ‘50s rockabilly ditty into a folk-rock duet with The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, juxtaposing heavy, buzzing guitars with a melodic fiddle line.
For many tracks, Plant pilots in bluesy digressions, encroaching into familiar territory by utilizing edgy bass lines and harrowing percussive accents. Some songs are simmering to create a more ominous, brooding mood, but “Bones of Saints,” Plant adopts a smoky tone amid thunderous symphonies of rhythm, melody and blended vocals to address a “fire up in the sky.” At the end, his low snarl transgresses into his signature wail, showing that although he’s just shy of 70, he, too, still carries fire.
With the release of his 11th solo effort, Plant is seasoned with the salt and pepper of his 50-plus years of being a musician. Although Carry Fire seemingly follows the same formula as his previous effort with the Space Shifters, 2014’s Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar, his sound is ever-changing, experimenting with the science of otherworldly instrumentation. But above all else, it’s his wisdom that keeps him going, and by the looks of everything he brought to the table in Carry Fire, he’s not stopping anytime soon.