Robert Plant's "Carry Fire" Simmers But Still Provokes And Produces Plenty of Heat

Howard Stern is probably today's best interviewer still standing now that Charlie Rose is sidelined, though his recent Robert Plant sit-down was among his least effective. Stern was so looking forward to having Plant in the studio that he sort of forgot why Plant agreed to visit in the first place. Plus his usually crack research team dropped the ball.

Plant wanted to talk about Carry Fire his latest Nonesuch album released last fall but all Stern wanted to talk about of course was Led Zeppelin. "We'll get to that", Stern kept saying, "but first.....". The impatient Plant tried to coax Stern back to his agenda by calling him "grandfather", which somehow Stern let pass.

Adding to the aggravation, Stern made clear by his questions that he did not know the antecedents to many Led Zeppelin songs and instead credited the band for having originated them, which must have made Plant somewhat uncomfortable. That's where Stern's research crew let him down.

No wonder Plant wanted to concentrate on this complex, immersive new release that deftly channels the mystery and power of his old band while moving the 69 year old into fresh new musical territory. Plant's lyrical interests are 100% contemporary. The songs tackle among the topics imperialism, immigration, gun violence and the unseen forces that are shaping and forming the world into an ugly, dangerous place—all observed sagaciously and minus preaching—backed by a skillfully arranged world musical melange of exotic instruments both physical and virtual.

Plant is in fine voice. His shouting days are long gone, replaced by a supple, sensuous simmer still takes listeners to otherworldly places. There's a fresh cover of "Bluebirds Over the Mountain" with Chrissie Hynde putting in an overdubbed appearance. Thanks to the fine recording and mix, Carry Fire is meant for in-depth listening. Plant isn't here to explain the mess we're in but rather to amp up its unsettling emotional intensity. You'll come away from a play feeling "in the moment", but don't expect it to be comforting. You'll also realize why Plant wanted to first talk about the new record on Stern's show: he's moved far beyond his Led Zeppelin days and he's not particularly interested in looking back.

The record spans 3 vinyl sides, with the fourth being an etching of the inner gatefold artwork. Attractively packaged, well-pressed on middle weight vinyl at Pallas, Carry Fire makes clear that Robert Plant can still harness and channel the exotic old world mystery that made what's that band's name such a dominant musical force way back in the 1970's while breathing fresh life into the musical genre that only appeared as oldies nostalgia at the recent Grammy Awards. Despite being recorded at more than 1/2 dozen studios, the record sounds richly drawn, fully realized and satisfyingly coherent. It also doesn't skip on dynamics.

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azmoon's picture

If he is the best interviewer around then the press is in even worse shape than I thought. Here's hoping you are wrong on that one Mikey!

Side note: watch Jerry Seinfeld put Stern in his place o Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Michael Fremer's picture
You've really never heard Howard Stern interview anyone. The press is in very decent shape. Jerry loves being interviewed by Howard. No doubt on Jerry's show he's going to have his say..... Do yourself a favor and listen to some of Stern's interviews.
azmoon's picture

I listened for years and got really tired of his act and his interviews. We can agree to disagree on this subject.

dog ear's picture

Michael, I will defer to your knowledge of records and analogue recordings and such, but please stay in your lane. “The press is in very decent shape.”

Good grief!

theboogeydown's picture

I must say that I've been feeling a bit let down by the pressings coming out of there for the last few years. Messy pressings and some, for whatever reason, that didn't live up to the hype/marketing. Just one man's experience though.
Check out Marc Maron's interviews on his podcast WTF. I think he elevates beyond Howard at times, if not for the longer format.

SLS's picture

that Pallas isn't quite the gold standard it once was. I own "Carry Fire" and enjoyed it. I agree with the 8/8 rating.

Vinylghost's picture

Michael how long have you been waiting to use "sagaciously"?

I've been considering purchasing this latest release from Plant.

Bobsblkwax's picture

For all you colored vinyl collectors, there is a limited gold (actually silver-ish) version from B&N. It's already gettin scarce around these parts.

And yeah - great record.

Rudy's picture

I've been lukewarm on Plant's recent albums musically. If this one isn't brickwalled (like a few other new vinyl releases in the past several years), I may give it a try. I'm always glad to see him follow his own muse, and not get stuck in a Led Zep rut for his entire career.

theboogeydown's picture

With nothing but a curious mind, what does that mean?

Tom L's picture

Brickwalling is a term used to describe excessive compression on recordings. It essentially means that the quieter parts of a recording are boosted to make the overall level louder while drastically reducing dynamic range. This supposedly makes music come through better on cheap devices such as phones with earbuds, but it also degrades the sound severely so that it sounds unnatural on decent equipment and causes listening fatigue.
Audiophiles hate brickwalling.
Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on dynamic compression-brickwalling is covered in the "Limiting" section.

Garven's picture

I wrote a reply here critical of Carry Fire (I think it's Plant's weakest since Shaken N Stirred) yet it's myteriously disappeared! Surely you allow differences of opinions here, Mike. If not, that's very sad.

Paul Robertson's picture

Sorry to hear some of us aren't fans of Stern. Have to agree with Michael, he's a GREAT interviewer regardless of his inability to "get" analog. As for Pallas, man I must be lucky. Have only had great ones from there to be honest. Thank you for the review on Plant's new venture.

Steelhead's picture

Gotta go with Azmoon on this one.

I heard him when stationed in New Jersey in the 70's. Boorish, juvenile, rude and developed an instant and lifelong aversion to him. I just don't get his popularity so maybe it's me. Never heard an interview from him as I can't take more than seconds of him.

But Robert Plant, just an amazing and talented artist no matter who interviews him.

Peace out

bongo-hifi's picture

I have this album and his previous releases on Nonsuch. They have all been excellent sounding and quality pressings. Until now. My copy of Carry Fire is a lighter/thinner pressing not that that's necessarily a bad thing. However, side one sounds awful, it is muddled incoherent, compressed and fatiguing whilst sides 2 & 3 sound great. Anyone else hearing the same?