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Re-energized by Dreamland - and by the critical acclaim that greeted it - Robert Plant cemented his relationship with his backing band (now minus guitarist Porl Thompson and bassist Charlie Jones) by bestowing the name the Strange Sensation on them. He then dragged them off to his farm in South Snowdonia. "The environment just seemed like the right thing to do," he said. "A place where we'd be together 24 hours a day, five days a week, so that people could go off in different little factions."
On the blastingly powerful Mighty ReArranger, Plant used the Strange Sensation to effect a new fusion of Zeppelin-esque rock and North African rhythm: a mighty rearrangement indeed. Though he had long been fascinated with the exotically discordant scales of eastern and African music, the immediate inspiration was his recent appearance at Mali's Festival in the Desert. "We were exposed to some of the most vibrant music and delivery I've ever experienced," Plant said of the festival near Timbuktu. "We've taken quite a few of the rhythms from there and superimposed them onto rock and roll structure." Key to effecting this was chief accomplice and multi-string-instrumentalist Justin Adams, who would go on to work with the acclaimed Malian troupe Tinariwen.
The album's songs were pitted with outbursts at military idiocy (Another Tribe), American jingoism (Freedom Fries) and classic-rock complacency (Tin Pan Valley), while still finding room for All the King's Horses, one of the loveliest acoustic ballads Plant's ever recorded.
The pulsing Another Tribe came complete with eddying Asiatic strings that recalled John Paul Jones' Mellotron interludes on Kashmir. John Bonham's primordial stomp came more to mind on the more thrusting Shine It All Around, which wasn't so far from the widescreen Britrock of Oasis and their ilk. The early highlight, though, was the thrilling Tin Pan Valley, lurching violently from ominous ambient softness to metallic Moroccan frenzy as explosively as Zeppelin ever did.
Takamba started out like Tinariwen itself before again blasting off into rock rage. Dancing in Heaven moved Plant back up to the Welsh mountains, with lap steel and Byrdsy 12-string acoustic fashioning a more folk-rock feel; Let the Four Winds Blow tapped Plant's infatuation with 1960s West Coast rock. Somebody Knocking returned us to the Malian desert, all hypnotic gourd grooves and monochordal blues dread, and the title-track could have been Tinariwen covering the Stones' Hip Shake Thing, complete with tinkling Ian Stewart-style piano. Piano it was, too, that faded into the closing Brother Ray, a brief homage to the late Mr. Charles that could have been recorded out in Plant's cowshed.
Mighty ReArranger stands up handsomely as some of the most energised and eclectic music Robert Plant has ever made.
One thing you can never accuse Robert Plant of is having no taste. From his days with the mighty Zep he was always the one espousing the purity of the Delta blues, the overlooked psychedelic explorations of Moby Grape or, along with Jimmy Page the exotic sway of Middle Eastern mysticism. This all made sense in the context of a canon of work that borrowed heavily from all these sources and, truth be told, made their work all the more interesting for it. His reunion with Page saw him return to his beloved North Africa and now, with Mighty Rearranger, he's proving he can do it alone.
While 57 year-old Plant's voice has lost much of his 'baybeee, baybeee' squawk the album packs a hefty punch due to his erm...mighty band - Strange Sensation. Roni Size drummer Clive Deamer does a fair John Bohnham impression while Justin Adams guitar waxes both weird and bluesy at the right moments. ''Dancing In Heaven'' can't help but remind you of Page's more pastoral moments. It's a broader canvas however than Zep's bag o' rock and folk. We get snatches of dub, Byrdsian psych, rockabilly and, naturally, Tuareg blues in ''Somebody Knocking''.
Of course it would be disingenuous to ignore the political overtones of such Arabic influences in these times. Opening track ''Another Tribe'' speaks of men 'torn between the lover and the gun' and, while Percy's lyrics have always tended towards the vague, there's a definite sense of contemporary issues being addressed. But the real joy lies in the way that Plant allows his band to shine in their eclecticism while never losing touch of his natural blues rock forte. His appearance at every world festival going may cast him in the role of 'cultural tourist' right now, but Mighty Rearranger shows that the West Bromwich boy's still in touch with his own roots.