Robert Plant has certainly never been an artist who has been comfortable looking backwards, or relying on his past with Led Zeppelin as a door opener for new opportunities. At any point since 1980, he and the others could have earned millions and millions of dollars for a broad-based and fully endorsed Led Zeppelin reunion, but he has always resisted that temptation. The one collaboration that does tend to resurface more frequently is his partnership with guitarist Jimmy Page, and we see that happen for the first time on “Now and Zen”. This was Plant’s 4th solo album, and one his biggest and most successful releases. Was it a coincidence that Jimmy Page played on two of the album’s biggest hits? I don’t think so, and neither does Plant. For all of their differences and indifferences over the years, he clearly has tremendous respect for his former bandmates. In several recent interviews, when asked about his success with Zeppelin, he frequently points to “the three guys who were playing behind me” as the driving force behind his massive success.
Clearly Plant did his part too, and this album does have three widely appreciated songs I wanted to cite in this blog. I really love the opening track, “Heaven Knows”, even if it was a Plant song my own son thought was terrible. I love the building melody and I think his voice sounds great on this song. And yes, that Jimmy Page guitar solo is a difference maker.
To most casual fans, they will remember the absurd and ridiculous self-declaration, “Tall Cool One”. They say it isn’t bragging if you can back it up, and Plant is tall, he’s definitely cool, and he has always been most comfortable as one, both musically and in his personal life. After shunning Led Zeppelin music for eight years after the death of John Bonham, this song not only again features Jimmy Page on lead guitar, it is also bursting with Zeppelin samples and Zeppelin citations vocally. For the first time on this tour, be opened the door to adding some of the band’s songs to his setlist.
More on that tour in a moment, but first let me talk about the best song on the record, “Ship of Fools”. It is slow, mystical tune, similar in style to “Moonlight in Samosa” from his first solo album, and it is a beautiful and elegant song, among his very best. The rest of the record is ok but not great, and if I had to single out one other song I like best, it would probably be “The Way I Feel”.
Even for this inconsistency, these four tracks made it worth the reflection for me, particularly when taken in context with the show I attended on this tour. Everything fell perfectly into place for this show. It was Red Rocks, it was July 4th, it was seventh row, and it was the last great concert moment where pretty much every close friend from my high school and college days came together for one last hurrah. I was a year away from graduating college, and none of us knew how far apart we would all soon be from each other. Jim, Mike, Doug, Shane, Matt, John and John were all there as I remember it, as all of us gathered to pay tribute to the “Tall Cool One” who had so influenced all of us for so many years, especially myself and Mike. It was just a perfect night, as one would expect, and I recall even at the time, it would never be quite like that again… and I was right.