Robert Plant has come home to England from Texas. The Led Zeppelin frontman has been pining for his roots — familiar landscapes, the distinctive “Black Country” accent of where he grew up and people who call him “Planty”.
And the legendary singer-songwriter, 66, considered by many one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, is back in creative mood.
He wrote nine of the tracks on his latest album “lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar”, due to be released on Monday, his first original compositions since the “Mighty ReArranger” in 2005.
When Plant performed in Britain in August 2013, around 50 percent of his set was drawn from the Led Zeppelin back catalogue.
A year on, he says his return home and a reunion with his “Mighty ReArranger” collaborators — his backing group the Sensational Space Shifters — has fostered an atmosphere in which he’s been able to “experiment a lot more”.
Together over the past two years they played in New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Europe and the process helped inspire him to create original music again.
“We were always moving but using all the songs (old and new) and it was natural that we would take a break and start writing new stuff which was representative of 2014,” he told AFP by telephone from his home in England.
“There’s nothing to gain from just playing stuff from the past so we had to create for the present and future,” he said.
– ‘Ultimate song’ –
In the mid-1970s, Led Zeppelin was the biggest band in the world, filling vast stadiums and selling millions of records.
The eight-minute single “Stairway to Heaven” is regarded by many as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
But the group, which was formed in 1968, has played only a handful of concerts together since the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980.
Like Plant, Bonham was also from Worcestershire in western England, close to the former industrial area called the Black Country. The pair used to drive home together to see their families after Led Zeppelin concerts.
In 2008, Plant definitively ruled out a reunion tour with guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist and keyboard player John Paul Jones, saying he was too old and wanted to concentrate on new projects.
The same year he began a tour of the US and Europe with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss. The duo’s “Raising Sand” collaboration won the 2009 best album Grammy.
Plant calls his latest work a “melange”.
“A lot of melodies arrived early in the process (of writing). We were just creating moods… all working for the same thing, and that is the ultimate song,” he said.
Reviews have been favourable. One critic, Daniel Paton of online music magazine OMH, called it “outstanding… a serious work reflecting on landscape, memory, regret and the pull of our roots”.
– ‘Crazy life’ –
Plant is now happily installed back home — once again among familiar people and places.
His recent return from Austin, he said, had nothing to do with the end of his relationship in 2013 with US folk singer Patty Griffin.
Instead, it was more to do with a natural end to some of his US collaborations and a dose of plain old homesickness.
One track on the album, “Turn It Up”, speaks of being “lost in America” and “turning into someone else”.
In the end, he said recently, he felt he had to return in order to “find out just how much I valued what I’d left behind”.
“It’s a big, big homecoming so I’m stimulated and pleased,” he told AFP.
“I never really ran away. I just spent more time away… I came and went, and came and went and I have done that since I was 17-years-old…(But) I found that I was missing my home too much. My culture…,” the singer told AFP.
“This is about lifestyle much more than about music… I’m in a position where nobody really treats me particularly in a special way where I live because I always lived here,” said Plant, who has a grown-up daughter and two sons — another son died as a child.
“My kids said, ‘hey come back’, so I thought it was the reward for a crazy life.”