Review Summary: Plant in his comfort zone; a beautiful, emotional and very well crafted album. A highpoint in Plant's post Zep career.
1993 was an interesting music year. Not only did we see some prolific artists release their debut album (Bjork, Radiohead, Suede, Porno For Pyros), there were also some majestic seconds (Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice In Chains).
’93 also brought long anticipated new music by two rock music “dinosaurs”; Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. The latter released the Coverdale-Page album in March, together with stall mate (Geffen Records) David Coverdale to wide critical acclaim. In May, Robert Plant followed with the release of “Fate Of Nations”.
Although song credits are shared between Plant and numerous band members, the album was released as a solo effort by Plant.
Apparently, Plant felt a need to go back to basics with this album. Getting inspiration from music that had turned him on during his career from artists like Jefferson Airplane, Tim Hardin and Traffic, Plant was making music that he felt comfortable with, without trying to be innovative or new.
Then there was the pressure of Jimmy Page releasing a great album almost at the same time with “the best singer-if-you-can’t-get-Plant”.
What we got was Plant’s best album since Led Zeppelin’s break up.
The album opens with “Calling To You”, an Eastern inspired rocker and slightly reminiscent of Zep’s “Kashmir”. It features some interesting violin parts by Nigel Kennedy, who was pretty hot at the time. Plant’s vocal mix is a bit like earlier releases with a little slap back echo.
“Down To The Sea” is a beautiful song carried by dry percussion and acoustic guitar. It has a lot of restrained energy in the verses and then opens up in the chorus. Plant’s vocal sound on this song and on a lot of the following tracks is great with a lot of depth and detail. The slap back echo creeps it’s head up now and then but never so in your face as on Plant’s earlier releases; a good thing!
Next we have “Come Into My Life”. A mid tempo song, again scarcely arranged in the (first) verses with only drums, some sinister guitar work and great vocals from Plant and female backing vocals from Maire Brennan, lead singer with Clannad. This track also builds up nicely to a more powerful chorus where hard strummed acoustic guitar, drum and bass beef it up.
“I Believe” is an emotional and personal track about the tragic loss of Plant’s son Karac. It’s an uptempo song with a poppy arrangement and only stands out from the rest of the tracks because of it’s lyrical content and emotional vocal delivery.
Single “29 Palms” is one of my personal favourites. It has the Zep like guitar riff and typical “Aahaahaaas” in the bridge but the rest of the instrumental arrangement stands it’s own ground, as do Plant’s vocals. It has a lot of Zep feel but still fits on to this album so well on a great central position in the tracklist.
We stay on Led Zep territory with two faced rocker “Memory Song”. Again opening with a great guitar riff and powerful drumming, this track calms down a bit in the bridge parts where 12 string acoustic guitars take centre stage. Great, edgy lead guitar work throughout and superb vocals from Plant bring the listener to the album’s energetic climax. In the last part the song breaks down.
Then, a new opening, a breath of fresh air.
If this album would have been released on vinyl we would now go to side B starting with a cover of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter”. A pure folk song and in that respect very much at home on this album. A definite resting point and a quiet, reflective moment before the build up towards the emotional climax of the album begins.
This build up starts with “Colors Of A Shade”. One of the best, if not the best, song on the album. The arrangement shines with amazing (double) acoustic guitar work, emotional vocals and effective use of fretless bass in the chorus. Next we wander back into Zep-land once more with “Promised Land”. The combination of the bluesy guitar riff and the up front harmonica really brings to mind early Led Zeppelin, but somehow also this track manages to fit into the rest of this album easily. Plant's voice seems to open up even more than on previous tracks and he probably delivers his most powerful vocal on this particular song.
“The Greatest Gift” is a bit of a strange, but very beautiful track carried only by a string arrangement and vocals in the verses with added guitars and drums in the chorus. Like numerous other songs on this album, this track features a bit of a dark atmosphere in the verses. The chorus is just pure beauty and the way Plant sings in the double chorus at the end of the song marks the emotional climax of this album for me.
The last two tracks are sort of "come-down" songs;
“Great Spirit” is, as its title suggests, a light hearted spiritual song. Also light in arrangement, it’s an easy listen and I would have favoured it as last song for this album. However, the album closes on a more rocky and political note with “Network News”, probably Plant’s most socially involved song but a bit of a strange ending to such an emotional album.
All in all “Fate Of Nations” marks a highpoint in Plant’s post-Led Zeppelin career. The album is full of superbly arranged and executed songs and Plant’s vocals take you from the darkest depths of his emotions to more light hearted mournfulness, always sincere and genuine.
All we can hope for is one more album like this before the man retires for good.