Albums Of The Week

Stalwarts go for fresh new sounds

Singer Robert Plant and art-pop whiz Beck's albums veer from their style but are nonetheless a joy

It's a testament to the artistry of music stalwarts when they ply their trade for decades, yet choose to release fresh new work that sounds little like the music they are most famous for.

This is certainly the case for the two new full-length works by British singer Robert Plant, former frontman of rock behemoths Led Zeppelin, and American art-pop whiz Beck.

Plant plumbs the depths of English folk and rootsy Americana in Carry Fire, his 11th solo album, and embellishes them with African and Middle Eastern flourishes.

The high-pitched, high-octane hollering from Led Zep's best known classics has long been replaced with nuance and warmth.

Amid tribal drums, he ruminates on global affairs and nationalism on Carving Up The World Again... A Wall And Not A Fence and gets sentimental on dreamy, romantic tunes such as Season's Song and Dance With You Tonight.

The album throws up a few surprises, such as the jazzy, proto-electronica rhythms driving Keep It Hid, while songs like Bones Of Saints are a rollicking throwback to his rock 'n' roll past.

Beck is known for his chameleonic body of work, and his latest album is filled with dancefloor-ready tunes.
Beck is known for his chameleonic body of work, and his latest album is filled with dancefloorready tunes. PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE

Backed by his long-time band of adroit musicians, the Sensational Space Shifters, Plant also ropes in another of rock's most famous voices, Chrissie Hynde, on a stirring rendition of Ersel Hickey's late 1950s rockabilly classic, Bluebirds Over The Mountain.

 

  • FOLK/ROCK

    CARRY FIRE

    Robert Plant

    Nonesuch/ Warner Bros

    4/5 stars

    POP/ ALTERNATIVE

    COLORS

    Beck

    Capitol

    4/5 stars

Beck's 13th album, Colors, is far less rootsy than Plant's new release, and is instead made up of electronic-tinged, funk-pop zingers that could well be his most accessible work to date.

The songs are a far cry from the heavy, dark-folk feel of his last release, Morning Phase, which won Album of the Year and two other prizes at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

The staccato singing in the synth-driven breaks out into an earworm of chorus on the title track ("Feel the colours/Tell me, do you feel alive?") and the disco vibes of Up All Night shine with pop exuberance.

Beck worked on the album with producer-of-the-moment Greg Kurstin, the famed indie-turned-mainstream wunderkind who has steered recent hits and releases by artists ranging from Adele to the Foo Fighters. It's not a case of jumping on the bandwagon, as the two of them go way back and Kurstin was part of Beck's band in the early 2000s.

There are still several quirky touches that are trademark Beck. I'm So Free, for example, has an unlikely formula that combines 1990s alt-rock chorus with rapping and catchy background vocals, while kooky hip-hop track Wow has the oddball charm of early material from his breakout 1994 album Mellow Gold and his best-selling 1996 release Odelay.

Perhaps it's expected of the singer and musician best known for his chameleonic and eclectic body of work, but an album of joyous, dancefloor-ready tunes is still a surprise, although in this case a welcome one.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Stalwarts go for fresh new sounds'. Print Edition | Subscribe