Carry Fire is the ultimate product of Robert Plant’s worldly sonic exploration and lyrical genius. He’s been around for over 50 years. He’s tamer, steelier and he’s moved past his explosive youth. But, it’s this combination of things, in my opinion, that lend unmistakable character to his eleventh solo album.
On the album cover, Plant, pensive but peaceful, is dressed in a plain black t-shirt, with fire-symbolising cardinal red for a background.. And in block letters no more showy than Times New Roman, is written ‘Robert Plant Carry Fire’. It is clear that the music is all he needs.
Plant embraces familiar strains of the folkloric – combining all characters that go with it – doomed lovers, wayfaring immigrants and nomads. He sings most of the tracks in no more than a controlled whisper, providing an intimate antithesis to his howling heyday with Led Zeppelin. With this, he holds the power to steer the listener to the root of his words and the music – to the awareness of his own mortality. In an interview with NME, he admits that the death of contemporaries has raised awareness about his own mortality.
He alludes very clearly to this in ‘Dance with You Tonight’: “Another carnival is over, someone turned out the light.” However, the image of mortality as conjured up by Carry Fire is, unlike in most scenarios morose and grave, one to reminisce about. The Sensational Space Shifters, the band that he has played with since 2012, help lend vibrancy to even the more solemn songs like “New World…” The instrumentation for some tracks is indicative of signature Americana and Blues styles, but the others (like “The May Queen” and “Carry Fire”) blend together to form a diverse tapestry of African and Indian music influences.
“The May Queen” sets the tone with bright, twangy Americana guitar, alongside beckoning native African drums. This is followed by some of the album’s most candid love songs (“Season’s Song” and “Dance with You Tonight”), helping to build intimacy through quieter yet warm auditory juxtapositions. “New World…” and “Carving up the World” bear poignant social messages, reinforced by upbeat drumming and moody guitar solos. Carry Fire, the title track, encapsulates the rhythmic manifestation of a conversation between Hindustani music’s sarod (a bowed fiddle) and a violin. And then there are Plant’s selfless words: “I carry fire for you.”
All the above tracks, with the relatively close-to-home “Bones of Saints” and “Bluebirds over the Mountain”, make for a detailed, evocative and transcendental journey that stress how far and wide Plant’s restlessness and curiosity have taken him.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Plant said: “Keep it Hid” was basically a keyboard loop and I just started singing the melody to it. It is such a naked track.” Despite Plant’s widespread leanings and learnings, Carry Fire, as an album, personifies ‘simplicity is square one’.
That’s what makes this a nonchalantly brilliant album by the Golden God of Rock.
Words, Yuvan Kumar