This box makes a strong case that Robert Plant’s favorite Led Zeppelin song is “Kashmir.” Its killer combination of big stomping rhythms (courtesy Phil Collins at first, but every drummer who followed throughout the ’80s and ’90s emulated his gated thwacking), massively reverbed guitars, one-handed keyboards, and wailing vocals turns up on nearly all of the eight solo albums collected here. From 1982’s Pictures at Eleven on, the formula was there. As for the ninth of these Nine Lives, there’s not much Middle Eastern pomp-metal flavor on the EP of ’50s rock covers credited to the Honeydrippers, of course, but that was a slightly baffling side trip. Even with Led Zep, Plant’s vision of rock tended to roll like a square-wheeled tank, and as a vocalist, he’s never had the showbiz smirk that made David Lee Roth’s similar, contemporaneous Crazy From the Heat work so well. (Indeed, Roth succeeded by adding the Jimmy Durante influence Plant apparently doesn’t know he’s missing.)
All but Nine Lives‘ final two albums emphasize thump and clang, with the suppleness that John Paul Jones brought to even Zep’s most concrete-shoed grooves almost entirely absent. Still, there’s plenty to like here, especially the discs with the least Led in ’em, and particularly 1990’s underrated Manic Nirvana. Possibly the most interesting part of the Robert Plant story goes overlooked here, though: the years between 1993’s Fate of Nations and 2002’s
Dreamland, during which time he reunited with Jimmy Page to reinvent the back catalog and, more importantly, formed a new band that’s actually a band. The Strange Sensation, heard on discs eight and nine ( Dreamland and 2005’s Mighty Rearranger), features a guitarist (among other things) who’s worked with Jah Wobble and the Tuareg blues-rock band Tinariwen, and a keyboardist and drummer formerly of Portishead. The music they make is globe-trotting rock, but not in a colonialist Paul Simon way—again, we’re back to “Kashmir” as a model, with Plant letting the sand blow him this way and that. Nine Lives may initially indicate that as a solo act Plant peaked early, but there are plenty of glorious moments the whole way along.