February 13, 2005

Review: Entering Dreamland

Back in January, I detailed my theory regarding the five types of albums that exist in the world. Combine that theory with the fact that people keep telling me I should write more about music and what do you get? Hopefully a fairly regular review or two.

Album: Dreamland
Artist: Robert Plant
Album Type: Sleeper

There are artists who have accumulated enough respect and power that they're allowed to do pretty much anything they want in the industry. David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen all easily fall into this category. They're above the fray, I guess you could say. Robert Plant, despite the outstanding musical contributions he's made, has never belonged in this category. Much of the reason for that is his own doing. Plant has been largely content rolling with the times, producing great albums that, with the passage of time, sound dated. Or he's attempted to travel back in time to relive his Zeppelin days. Don't get me wrong - I love the guy. I've seen him live a few times and own everything he's done. Yet, in his post-Zeppelin career, he had yet to do anything classic, anything that had the potential to move him into that upper echelon of musicians who could do no wrong...that is, until he released Dreamland.

Dreamland finds Plant nostalgic, yet not attempting to recreate the classic, oft-repeated Zeppelin sound. Instead he looks to the songs that inspired him prior to and during those same years. He reinvents, for instance, Bob Dylan's One More Cup of Coffee, Dobson and Rose's Morning Dew and Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren and turns in the most spare, evil version of Hey Joe ever recorded. Even Hendrix would have been afraid.

Reworkings such as these only provide half the brilliance of the album. The other half is provided by the musicians themselves. There are no recording tricks, no flashy keyboard sequencing, no programmed percussion. From the moment you start the album to its end, you only hear musicians playing for the love of the music. Probably the most shining example of this new, stripped down direction is the cover of Buckley's (yes, Jeff's father) Song to the Siren. Sparsely arranged, the centerpiece is Plant. You can hear every syllable, ever inhale and every exhale. His voice soars, falters, and rises again in what must be the most honest vocal performance he's ever committed to record.

I've always figure that if I started a band, I'd try my damnedest to make it sound timeless. You know how you go back and listen to an album you loved ten years ago and it just sounds cruelly dated? I wouldn't let that happen. Instead of using keyboards, I'd use a piano and an old Hammond B-3. Instead of processing guitars, I'd just mic them, nice and raw. No drum machines or fake percussion and no fancy vocal tricks. The music would be honest, which is exactly the way the music sounds here. Plant has not only created an album timeless in its interpretation of classics, but an album that will sound timeless in years and decades to come. And there's this: I own around 3500 CDs. Any album that consistently makes it off the shelves and into my CD player has something to it.

Posted by Chris at February 13, 2005 05:08 PM

Someday, your kid will end up wanting to play the accordion and only listen to polka music just to rebel.

That was an interesting musical critique. I'm especially interested in the "Hey, Joe" cover, as (surprise) I'm a Hendrix fan and always found that song striking.

More, please!

Posted by: alektra at February 13, 2005 05:58 PM

Hope to read more of the these. And you have 3500 CD's? I only have 10% of that and people think I'm nuts. That's awesome.

Posted by: Colby at February 13, 2005 07:25 PM

Okay you convinced me, I'm going to buy that cd :-)

Posted by: Nina at February 13, 2005 10:14 PM

Great review. I also want to listen to Hey Joe now. I'm so glad you're writing about music. I hope to see more of it. :)

Posted by: Sashinka at February 13, 2005 11:40 PM

Wow, sounds great. And this is a fantastic topic for you!

Posted by: Keri at February 14, 2005 12:01 AM

You just sound so dang smart when you talk about music. ;)

Posted by: Heather at February 14, 2005 05:17 PM

I often find that the music I love most is sincere with some feeling behind it. Let me know what's rolling around inside you and I'll be intrigued.

Of course I often fall for the catchy tunes too, but they don't stand up to music that's real.

Posted by: Gweny at February 15, 2005 02:16 PM