I’ve never considered Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson a muse of any sort, but he once said a very smart thing about aging in the rock music world. It went something like, “I don’t have to worry about whether I can move around onstage like I used to, because I never moved around much anyway.” Now, you can consider that as a pathetic statement of Anderson’s inability to generate heat at any time in his career, or you can cut him some slack and applaud his savvy agility at being able to deliver the same level of onstage excitement at 21 and at 58.
In any case, it’s weird—at least to me—to hear a mature Robert Plant singing very nicely, evocatively, and marvelously in tune on Mighty Rearranger. It’s not weird because I expected him to take a late-era Frank Sinatra plunge into vocal irrelevance. Nah. Plant’s in good shape, and he obviously takes excellent care of his instrument. It’s all about that King of Cock Rock thing that permeated his every pore during Led Zeppelin’s reign. Today, we have a king in need of a little erectile assistance. There are still echoes of power, but the passion and commitment and blind crazy-ass excitement simply isn’t there anymore. The tight-pants Plant could blow the roof off a Wal-Mart with a single wail, seduce legions of girls (and boys) with a whisper, and tear into a lyric like a starving puma. Let’s just say that no Wal-Mart need fear Robert Plant circa 2005.
Now, the even weirder thing is that, despite the lion-in-winter vibe, this is a brilliant record. It delivers snippets of Led Zeppelin-like grandeur (with the John Bonham-inspired heaviness of “Shine It All Around” and “Takamba”), some fabulous guitar lines and solos (courtesy of Justin Adams and Skin), some beautiful acoustic numbers (“All the King’s Horses” and “Dancing in Heaven”), and Plant’s wonderful east/west melodic hybrids. However, everything is a slow burn that stops just short of a feverish climax. The tragedy is that you’d never know what you’re missing with Mr. Anderson, but you absolutely miss the fireworks you once experienced with the sexual banshee who used to be Robert Plant. What a drag it is getting old. Sanctuary. —Michael Molenda