The quiet one from Zeppelin isn't so quiet anymore. This is a finest slice of...
Chris Jones 2002-11-20
Historical revisionism has for too long cast JPJ as the dullest part of the behemoth that was Led Zeppelin. Plant had the tight trousers, Page had the chops and Bonham had the drums that shook the gates of Valhalla; but what did the quiet one do? This album, a mighty fine follow up to 1999's first solo album Zooma, answers the question with aplomb. Mr Jones has proven in the space of forty five minutes that, while his remaining band mates seem happier to rest on their blues rock laurels, he's been forging music which stretches the imagination to a far greater degree. It's easy to forget that, despite this being only his second official solo album, he's been far more active than it appears. The multitude of intervening film scores, collaborations (his Diamanda Galas co-production The Sporting Life was a model of twisted genius) and production duties have resulted in an album which displays a master craftsman's touch with a disarming ease.
Last year's double billing with labelmates King Crimson was an inspired live pairing and now we see how the two acts have informed each other's work. Robert Fripp guests on the first number "Leafy Meadows" and indeed, along with a track like "Shibuya Bop", intricate proggery is well on display; but that is by no means the full picture and this is no work of a lame copyist. Since JPJ's days as top sessioneer his abilities as arranger and multi-instrumentalist have equipped him to add musical finesse to any genre. It was this that made Zeppelin more than just a heavy rock act, and it allows The Thunderthief to move between the pastoral blues folk of "Down To The River To Pray", the surreal introspection of "Ice Fishing At Night" and the greasy hard rock of the title track without even drawing breath. Only on the punky pastiche "Angry Angry" does the vibe escape him, but he was always too accomplished to achieve something so off the cuff.
The lyrics and sleeve by ace cartoonist Peter Blegvad are frankly strange ("The blubber lanterns lure them, brighter than the moon. They swim up to face the gaffer's hook, and the sharp harpoon." - from "Ice Fishing at Night") but entirely apt in this idiosyncratic musical terrain where a cornucopia of instrumentation (nearly all played by the man himself) offer such a rich feast for the ears. The quiet one from Zeppelin certainly isn't so quiet anymore.