Stands up well as a statement of solo independence and intent.
Barney Hoskyns 2010
Emerging from the ashes of Led Zeppelin as a credible solo act cannot have been easy for Robert Plant: so much to prove, so many ghosts in the closet. A year after the death of his old Black Country mucker John Bonham, 33-year-old Percy found himself at large in a musical realm where Zeppelin had become almost irrelevant. Nor was his voice much more than a shadow of the blood-curdling shriek he'd summoned in that biggest of 70s bands.
On his solo debut, smartly, he never tried to emulate the brute power or sophistication of Zeppelin. The songs, mostly written with guitarist Robbie Blunt (formerly of Bronco and Silverhead), moved pointedly beyond the blues and folk roots of 70s Zep. Recorded at Rockfield in Wales, the sound was already identifiably 80s – a kind of techno-rock in the making, with Jezz Woodroffe's subterranean synths underpinning Blunt's effects-tweaked session-man licks, the whole thing powered by the big drums of a visiting Phil Collins (on all tracks bar Slow Dancer and Like I've Never Been Gone) and Cozy Powell. Plant's vocals had that distanced, reverby quality so popular with producers from that disowned decade.
In some ways Pictures at Eleven picked up where In Through the Out Door left off, though it's a better record. There’s a similar variety about its songs. Opener Burning Down One Side is a Stonesy strutter with Keefish riffing and trademark toms-and-cymbals flexing from Collins. Moonlight in Samosa is a seductively Spanish-tinged mid-tempo affair with pretty link sections, draped in lavish keyboards. Nodding a little to the Asiatic might of Zeppelin's Kashmir, near-eight-minute epic Slow Dancer is an intense and haunting fusion of Pakistan and Kidderminster. And these are all within the first four tracks.
Like late Zeppelin, Pictures at Eleven was guilty of occasional muso showiness. Pledge Pin wanted to be The Police. Worse Than Detroit wanted to be Little Feat – all slide smears and funky bass-drum pushes – but sounds like lame West Coast session rock. Driven by Collins, Mystery Title is a pale echo of Zep's Trampled Under Foot. But Like I've Never Been Gone is a moving and melodically acute song of regret for lost love.
Plant minus Page – let alone minus Bonham and Jones – was never going to amount to much more than iconic status in the 80s. But Pictures at Eleven stands up surprisingly well as a statement of solo independence and intent.