Pictures At Eleven
Swan Song, 1983
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/31/2008
Anyone who listened to Robert Plant's box set or to his recent outing with Alison Krauss knows just how diverse the ex-Led Zeppelin singer can be. In the same manner as Peter Gabriel, Plant hasn't been afraid to shed his past in order to branch out musically, both as a singer and a songwriter in pursuit of meaning through various genres.
It took a little while for this quality to surface in Plant's solo work, however. Knowing he would be crushed under the weight of expectations, Plant went ahead and released Pictures At Eleven in 1982, his first solo disc since Zeppelin had broken up two years prior.
Inevitably, the disc has Zeppelin overtones, perhaps to ease the listener's transition from whom Plant used to be to what he would eventually become. That's not to say the disc is Zep lite, because it's really not, but most of the songs are a cross between the watered-down In Through The Out Door and standard 80s rock.
"Burning Down One Side" was the hit here, and it's a song without consequence, a decent rocker that goes nowhere. "Moonlight In Samosa" is much better, a sad flamenco guitar weaving in and out of electric chords and a solid rhythm section, creating the illusion of the song's title. "Pledge Pin" isn't sure what it wants to be, alternating between an epic slow song (think "Tea For One") and a boring rocker (think "Hots On For Nowhere," both of those from the Presence disc). "Slow Dancer" actually is kind of an epic, not on the level of a Zeppelin song but certainly as adventurous and guitar-heavy as anything else from 1982.
"Worse Than Detroit" is pretty bland, save for an interesting instrumental break in the middle that sounds a lot like King Crimson's Beat album, released the same year. Worth noting: Phil Collins drummed on six of the eight tracks here, which isn't something one would automatically notice unless they listened to a lot of Genesis, and on "Fat Lip" Collins' presence as a songwriter is felt (not his slow stuff, but his work on Abacab, for example.) It's the underrated gem of the disc and one of the only songs worthy of the repeat button.
This being Plant, there has to be one slow bluesy song, and "Like I've Never Been Gone" fits the bill, but it fails to capture the emotional fire it needs. "Mystery Title" sounds like the answer to Zeppelin's "In The Evening," but is actually better than that song; unfortunately, it sounds like Plant is in another room singing the vocals, and the treble-heavy mixing doesn't lend any gravity to his voice, which is high to begin with. But that was production in the 80s, so it's forgivable.
The reissue of this disc features a live version of "Like I've Never Been Gone" and a British single called "Far Post" that would have fit nicely on the album, but like many of the other songs fails to really grip the listener.Which is the final problem with Pictures At Eleven. Unsure of his destiny, Plant tried to mix the familiar with the new, and wound up with a batch of songs that aren't really worthy of his name, save for "Moonlight In Samosa" and "Slow Dancer." Zeppelin fans will enjoy this, and fans of 80s rock might too, but this is hardly the place to start for novice Plant fans, and it's certainly not up to par with the man's best work. This makes Pictures a decent listen, but ultimately nothing more than a transition album.