CD review of Nine Lives by Robert Plant

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Nine Lives
starstarstarstarno star Label: Rhino
Released: 2006
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His profile as a recording artist has taken a nosedive over the last decade or so, and it was only three years ago that Robert Plant released the two-disc Sixty-Six to Timbuktu compilation, so it’s likely that Nine Lives – a massive nine-CD, one-DVD overview of his solo career – will be greeted with a certain amount of scorn. By virtue of his years with Led Zeppelin alone, he’s rock & roll royalty, but is a boxed set dedicated to Plant’s post-Zep, non-Page years really necessary?

And such skepticism has always been par for the course where Plant’s solo career is concerned. Despite his relatively steady presence on the FM dial between Zeppelin’s demise and the early ‘90s, his releases rarely received the kind of cachet afforded such high-profile solo artists as McCartney or Jagger. There are reasons for this, but it’s unfortunate nonetheless, because – as Nine Lives makes clear – Plant has been more consistent (and consistently interesting) than either. Calling a body of work more consistent and interesting than the collected solo output of McCartney and/or Jagger could justifiably seen as faint praise, but the point remains: as tightly as the ghost of his former band has held him, Plant has succeeded in charting a stubbornly original course.

Not everything has aged well, of course, but what’s surprising is just how much of this stuff still holds up. 1982’s Pictures at Eleven and 1983’s The Principle of Moments are albums very much of their time, but the songs and performances transcend their production consistently enough to overcome this. The years have not been as kind to the Honeydrippers Volume One EP and 1985’s Shaken ‘N’ Stirred, but from 1988’s Now and Zen on, he’s been on a cacophonous, solidly enjoyable tear.

Even if you don’t take into consideration the nosedive in quality that many of his peers’ releases have suffered over the same time span, this is a noteworthy streak – something Plant himself seems painfully aware of in the DVD’s hour-long documentary. These things are supposed to be puff jobs, of course, but before the film is even five minutes old, Plant has already referred to his continued inspiration as “a masterstroke,” and that pretty much sets the tone for the duration. It’s still worth watching – if only to marvel at (a hopefully very stoned) Tori Amos during her unintentionally hilarious interview segments – but hearing Plant pat himself on the back every few minutes does add a noticeably sour aftertaste to the whole experience. Ed Vulliamy’s gushing liner notes are similarly over the top.

The albums have all been remastered, of course, and bonus tracks appended to each; if there’s a complaint here, it’s that there’s a relative dearth of bonus material for the earlier records, while, for instance, 2005’s Mighty Rearranger has five extra songs tacked on. Regardless, everything sounds great. The only question Plant fans will need to answer is whether they want to spring for the whole box (listing at just under $100) or wait for Rhino to give the remasters their inevitable individual, budget-priced release.

~Jeff Giles