The New U2 Album, Robert Plant and Staying Relevant.


U2’s Songs of Inno­cence.

Vet­er­an U2 fans have long greet­ed the launch of a new album with increas­ing trep­i­da­tion. Last week was, alas, more of the same. Their lat­est, Songs Of Inno­cence, sounds like the album from a Broad­way musi­cal, cel­e­brat­ing the youth of a 90s rock band. The tracks might very well be, as the band keep telling us, a col­lec­tion of inti­mate, per­son­al songs, but they sound like they are being per­formed by a U2 trib­ute band. Some of the riffs have been lift­ed clean off of the Joshua Tree.

U2’s prob­lem has always been Achtung Baby (’91). Which wasn’t just a seis­mic leap for­ward for the band at the time, it was one of the sem­i­nal albums of the decade. The prob­lem then is, how on earth do you fol­low it?

Achtung Baby!

Achtung Baby!

Zooropa (’93) and Pas­sen­gers (’95) was the sound of band grap­pling with what to do now that they’d become the glob­al phe­nom­e­non they’d always dreamt of. You could hear them intent­ly lis­ten­ing to what was going on around them try­ing to feel their way for­ward. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (‘00) was a very pleas­ing col­lec­tion of con­ven­tion­al sin­gles, but was tac­it­ly under­stood as a brief hiatus.

But the three albums over the 14 years that have fol­lowed have proved whol­ly unre­mark­able and have mere­ly pro­vid­ed the band with more-of-the-same to per­form live with. So why not be done with stu­dio albums for good? Because a live band is essen­tial­ly what they’ve become.

It’s per­fect­ly accept­able in the worlds of RnB, blues and jazz to stop fever­ish­ly pro­duc­ing new mate­r­i­al, and to spend your lat­ter years re-exam­in­ing your can­non, con­cen­trat­ing instead on pro­duc­ing the kinds of live per­for­mances that only come with age and expe­ri­ence. What’s the point of fur­ther adding to an already impres­sive back cat­a­logue with mass pro­duced, sub-stan­dard, repli­ca copies?

Robert Plant.

Robert Plant.

Incred­i­bly few bands man­age that per­ilous bal­anc­ing act of fill­ing vast sta­di­ums and of pro­duc­ing qual­i­ty albums of gen­uine sub­stance. U2 were one, Led Zep­pelin were anoth­er. Amaz­ing­ly, Robert Plant turned his back on the peer­less 70s hell-rais­ers in 1980, and has been qui­et­ly plough­ing his own fur­row ever since.

His musi­cal wan­der­lust has seen him explor­ing the roots Amer­i­cana of the deep south, and of where all that came from in the music of west Africa. Unex­pect­ed­ly, if quite cor­rect­ly, he burst into pub­lic view again in 2007 with his Ali­son Krauss col­lab­o­ra­tion Rais­ing Sand, which won the Gram­my for Album of The Year in 2008 and sold by the tonne.

Lullaby… And the Ceaseless Roar.

Lul­la­by and… The Cease­less Roar.

Band of Joy fol­lowed in 2010, prov­ing for those not in the know that Rais­ing Sand wasn’t a blip but part of a ful­ly formed renais­sance. And now he’s back with anoth­er new band (part of an old one actu­al­ly), with his lat­est album, Lul­la­by and… The Cease­less Roar.

The Sen­sa­tion­al Space Shifters include mem­bers of the Strange Sen­sa­tion which he formed over a decade ago. He’s joined by both the key­boardist and bassist from Por­tishead, as well as Justin Adams, a pro­duc­er who’s worked with Bri­an Eno and, more recent­ly, the blues Tuareg band, Tinawiren. That’s how you stay rel­e­vant. Musi­cal­ly inquis­i­tive, reveal­ing, prob­ing and plain­tive, it gets an approv­ing 7.0 from the boys from Pitch­fork here. And could eas­i­ly have got more.

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