This couldn’t be the same goldenhaired lemon squeezer who fronted Led Zeppelin, could it? The fingerprints identify him as that Robert Plant, erstwhile rock god and latter-day solo artist and Honeydripper. So what is this strange-sounding new-music album, Shaken ‘n’ Stirred, all about? For starters, it sounds like he’s been listening to the last couple of records by the Police and Talking Heads, and some of the new stuff coming over from Africa. There’s also a nod to the Middle Eastern influences that wafted through Zeppelin numbers like “Kashmir.”
On Shaken ‘n’ Stirred, Plant and band are toying with the outer limits of structure in an interestingly fractured way. These nine numbers eschew most of the conventional rules that govern pop-song construction yet hew to an elaborate logic all their own. Themes wriggle in and out of the proceedings, the musicians fill the spaces with blasts of tonal coloration, and the songs are wont to lurch forward and backward and then turn on a dime for a sprint to the finish.
Most encouragingly, Plant himself appears none too pretentious about it all. There are overlays of Fifties vocalise on “Doo Doo a Do Do,” with its shubops and sha-la-las nested comfortably among the whirring synthesizers and cross-talking rhythms. The message? “Mmm, it’s a new kind of mambo,” sings Plant. “Easily Lead” mates the propulsiveness of the Police’s “Synchronicity” with Peter Gabriel’s odd bent for sound collage, and Plant briefly quotes a couple of Led Zep classics just for laughs. Another strong track is “Kallalou Kallalou,” in which guitarist Robbie Blunt steps out a bit in the mix to go one-on-one with Plant in a frenzied raveup as loopy and driven as the Zeppelin noise classic “The Crunge.”
Of course, Led Zeppelin comparisons are hardly the point. Unlike certain other acts, Plant has refrained from banking on the past. Instead, he’s banking on the present, reinventing himself as a chameleon with a sharp ear for new sound.