Robert Plant’s Renewed Reality: Dreamland at 20

The former Led Zeppelin frontman’s 2002 return as a solo act found him honoring his musical heroes

Robert Plant 2002 (Image: Universal Music)

Given his indelible image as the tussle-haired rock god forever perched on the edge of the action while at the helm of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant would seem to have faced a substantial challenge when it came to redefining himself entirely.

Consequently, it’s a credit to both his talent and tenacity that he managed to do just that, reemerging as a formidable solo singer who was still well equipped to deliver the blustery blues and determined defiance that defined him from early on.

Granted, it took some time to find his footing. Early forays into rockabilly eventually gave way to more mainstream success, including a series of chart-topping albums and single hits that included “Big Log,” “Little by Little” and “In the Mood.” They helped reposition him as a mainstream rocker with a clear penchant for melody and nuance. 

Nevertheless, by the time Dreamland arrived on July 16, 2002, Plant had more to prove than simply his ability to maintain his status as an indelible icon. That said, he had enlisted a new backing band in Strange Sensation —one consisting of John Baggott (keyboards), Pearl Thompson of The Cure (guitar),  longtime bassist Charlie Jones and Clive Deamer of Portishead/Radiohead fame on drums and percussion — and reaffirmed the fact that he would always be the facile frontman and never simply a solo star. 

Robert Plant Dreamland, Mercury Records 2002

Dreamland marked a return in another way as well, one that found him revisiting the seminal influences that stirred him early on, specifically the West Coast sounds of mid ‘60s pre-Americana — the band Moby Grape being one, but so too the other artists that found their bearings in the sounds stirred in thethe hills of Laurel Canyon and within the golden haze of San Francisco.

As a result, there were several familiar musical touchstones on the album, specifically the soulful strains of “Morning Dew,” Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee,” the Youngbloods’ classic “Darkness Darkness,” Tim Buckley’s haunting “Song to a Siren,” and, quite naturally, Moby Grape’s paean to their their troubled leader, “Skip’s Song.” A handful of group originals are also included in the mix, but given the album’s eclectic nature, it remains one of Plan’t most distinctive offerings overall. 

That diversity in terms of direction reflected Plant’s pursuits overall. His one time reunion with Jimmy Page and the resurrection of his early outfit — if in name only —  The Band of Joy, found him still clinging to his past while also eager to explore to plot new directions forward. His romantic relationship with Patty Griffin and a professional pairing with Alison Krauss created a distinct divide from the bombastic blues of Led Zep and his desire to remake himself in an Americana image. For the moment anyway, he appears to be thoroughly ingrained in the latter category, relegating Dreamland and the other efforts from that era to secondary standing. 

Still, looking back in retrospect ,Dreamland could be considered the archetypical album of Plant’s prolific career. The mesh of influences and inspiration sums up his stance ideally. 

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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