From Sixty-Six To Timbuktu

Jan 21, 2004 at 12:00 am

T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor where it came to pass that many decades of corrupting decadent excesses would inexorably pile up until, just like Gollum before him, rock’s ultimate archetype was reduced to looking like an old crone who’s run out of estrogen. (And if you think he doesn’t know it, think again: Although the most recent track on this two-disc compilation was recorded just last year, the booklet contains no contemporary photos.)

Then, as if showing up on CNN to hawk his wares during a powder puff interview with fawning fanboy Aaron Brown wasn’t bad enough, he has the unmitigated, unconscionable gall to commit the unpardonable sin of selling out to Madison Avenue and becoming a shrill shill for Cadillac (and you thought he was just being euphemistic on “Trampled Underfoot”).

Yet despite these blatant transgressions, there’s no denying that Robert Plant sure knows how to sling together a first-class oeuvre overview.

Aside from two semi-unreleased tracks, the first disc holds no new surprises for anyone who’s been following Plant’s solo career since 1983. Those in search of the self-deprecating boffo humor of Manic Nirvana, however, will find such sonic shenanigans kept to a minimum because the emphasis here is on Robert Plant, artiste d’serious. As such, the bulk of material is justifiably drawn from his most mature artistic achievement to date, the understated and underrated Fate Of Nations.

So if it’s bozo yucks you want, head straight for the second disc and feast your ears on such archival howlers as “You’d Better Run” (a laff riot from 1966 that shows Plant to be an average vocalist at best) and the Band Of Joy’s 1967 Plant/Bonham cover demos “Hey Joe” and “For What It’s Worth” (both of which will make you wonder how these guys could ever become what they became).

Which is why nothing short of a midnight crossroads deal can possibly explain how, less than a year later, the patented Plant vocal template mysteriously appears completely formed and in full flight on 1968’s obscure Alexis Korner/Steve Miller rave up “Operator.”

Then again, you know what they say: Those whom the gods would hammer, they first make old. And 1968 is only seventeen short years away from Robert Plant’s soundtrack work on Porky’s Revenge.

Zoom zoom zoom, my precious.

E-mail Jeffrey Morgan at [email protected].