Saturday, October 18, 2014

From exotic to trite

album reviews

Robert Plant releases a tender record while Maroon 5 loses track of its sound

Artist: Robert Plant
Album: lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar

Few musicians have a chance to front a genre defining band; fewer still can follow such success with a wildly prolific solo career; and almost none can hold a candle to Robert Plant, who very emphatically stands in a class of his own. The former vocalist of Led Zeppelin, the rock band that is often cited as one of the most influential groups of all time, has had a successful solo career spanning over three decades, and, as is evident from his new album, is still going strong.

Produced and co-written by Plant himself, his latest release, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, marks his maiden studio voyage with backing band The Sensational Space Shifters and sees the singer come up with an intriguingly eclectic set that brings together his many influences to create a thoroughly satisfying sonic experience.

Flavours of folk and blues shade this offering of rock that is sprinkled with exotic world music. The skills of its accomplished creator are on display at every turn of lullaby. Whether he is coming up with arrangements that are intricate (the reworking of the folk standard ‘Little Maggie’) or sparse (the beautiful piano ballad ‘A Stolen Kiss’), the results never fail to impress.

Powered by the grace of his delivery and the warmth of its material, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar revels in its rich textures and gives us much to discover while making it evident that Robert Plant isn’t resting on his laurels. Admittedly there is more lullaby here than roar, but with songwriting this stunning, there’s hardly any reason to complain, because ultimately this set of songs is so riveting that it practically forces you to hit replay the second it’s over.

Highlights: ‘Little Maggie’, ‘Turn It Up’, ‘A Stolen Kiss’, ‘Poor Howard’
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Band: Maroon 5
Album: V

Even though televised singing competitions are supposedly a platform for hitherto undiscovered contestants who are trying to break into the music industry, the real winners of these shows are usually the so-called mentors and judges, who often benefit from a boost in their profile and popularity. Adam Levine is a prime example of this phenomenon. The Maroon 5 front man has gained considerable attention due to his stint as a coach on The Voice, and a collaboration with fellow mentor Christina Aguilera in the form of ‘Moves like Jagger’ has given the group their biggest hit to date. Now the band is trying to chase the same sugarcoated sound on their new album, V.

For this set of over-produced, saccharine electro-tinged pop rock, the band is working with the same pop producers and writers (Max Martin, Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder, Shellback, Sia) that everyone goes to when they’re desperate to pander to the masses and not particularly concerned with individuality or substance. Relationships continue to be their subject of choice, as they blend chart trends to create a slick collection of pop that somehow manages to be both catchy and forgettable at the same time.

From upbeat opening track and lead single ‘Maps’ to the piano ballad closer ‘My Heart Is Open’ (the now requisite duet with another coach, this time featuring Gwen Stefani), the material is largely non-descript and over-polished. Save the beautiful, Nate Ruess co-penned ‘Leaving California’, which smoothly reminds us that this is the same band that made Songs About Jane (2002), V doesn’t have the emotional resonance or texture of their early material. There is enough variety between these songs to keep their fans pleased, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Maroon 5 doesn’t even sound much like a band anymore. Ultimately, you may find their latest installment infectious or cloying, depending on how you feel about standard chart-friendly pop as well as your level of tolerance for Levine’s falsetto.

Highlights: ‘Leaving California’, ‘Maps’, ‘In Your Pocket’
Rating:  2.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 18th October, 2014 *

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