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Robert Plant - Now And Zen CD (album) cover

NOW AND ZEN

Robert Plant

Crossover Prog


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mystic fred
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Tall Cool One.

After the "shock of the new" in 1985, Plant's 1988 release on 29th Feb. "Now And Zen" seemed to indicate a return to "form" for many, Plant had reconciled his past and even felt confident enough to reform his group and call in his old mate Jimmy Page to play on the new album. New contributors included Phil Johnstone on keyboards, Doug Boyle guitar, Phil Scragg bass, Chris Blackwell on drum, David Barratt keyboards, Kirsty MacColl and Toni Halliday on backing vocals.

The album was sumptuously illustrated with Plant's deep interest in exotic Eastern symbolism to the fore, and even a special boxed 12 inch single release of "Heaven Knows", a song which retained Plant's most lyrical humour, even to challenge Ian Gillan, in the line "you were pumping iron while I was pumping irony". The box set included a set of similarly symbolic photos, and the production by Tim Palmer was as equally polished and melodic, producing one of Plant's best sounding albums to date, though he feels his songs were "lost in the technology of the time".

"Now and Zen" contained mostly traditional radio-friendly rock songs though some had a twist, especially on the sparkling "Dance on my Own", "White Clean and Neat", "Tall Cool One", with Plant having a lot of fun with Elvis style vocals and some sampled JP Zeppelin riffs mixed in, and the majestic "The Way I Feel". "Billy's Revenge" is pure Rockabilly, though the album contains mostly straightforward songs Plant's mystical lyrics are to the fore on the ballad "Ship of Fools", and mythical song subject "Helen of Troy".

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Send comments to mystic fred (BETA) | Report this review (#304999)
Posted Sunday, October 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
zravkapt
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Post/Math Rock Team
2 stars I don't understand this Crossover Prog sub-genre. Oh well, the less said the better. This was the only Robert Plant album I ever had. Not sure why I got it to begin with. I guess I just liked "Tall Cool One" and "Heaven Knows". Both songs feature Jimmy Page. I guess Plant and Page were more friendly with each other after Live Aid. "Tall Cool One" is interesting because it samples Zeppelin songs("Black Dog", "Custard Pie" and "The Ocean" for sure, maybe others). This was all a direct response to the popularity of the Beastie Boys. On their first album they sampled "When The Levee Breaks" and "Custard Pie". The Beasties turned the drumbeat at the beginning of "Levee" into a classic hip-hop break, used by many(and not just hiphoppers) ever since.

"Heaven Knows" was always my favourite song here. One of Plant's better solo songs, IMO. Another song I forgot how much I liked was "Why". It's very poppy and '80s sounding, but it's a catchy tune. I really like the hook in that song where it goes: "and he knows...she don't know, she don't know, she don't know". Good stuff. I'm confused by the song "Helen Of Troy". John Cale has a writing credit on it. He also had a song and album with the same title. I'm not completely sure if the song here has anything to do with his. Either way, Cale's song is better. Cale also has a song called "Ship Of Fools", but the song here with the same title has nothing to do with his. It's one of Plant's better ballads.

This album might appeal to Zeppelin fans, but the production and songwriting is very late 1980s. Alright if you're into that kind of thing. I can't see your average progger liking this. Can't give this more than 2 stars.

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Send comments to zravkapt (BETA) | Report this review (#306096)
Posted Friday, October 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
Chris S
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Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Again Robert Plant is surrounded by great musicians, Jimmy Page, Kirsty MacColl and Doug Boyle to name a few, yet this for this reviewer was the low point of Robert Plant's studio output. The album seems to be top heavy with Phil Johnstone's keyboard and synth sounds. Well it was still 1988 after all. " Heaven Knows" a decent enough tune but it never really changes gear and an unusual opener for an album." Dance On My Own" makes me cringe to be honest and has not dated too well." Tall Cool One" is far too poppy for my liking also, yet Plant redeems himself on the excellent " The Way I Feel", the LZ formula ensuring immediate success and definitely the high point of Now & Zen. " Ship Of Fools" is great laid back track with excellent guitar work and drum fills. " Why" is truly awful but " White , Clean & Neat" has a great rock feel to it until the chorus and synths come in....Plant at least keeps the song alive with his superb vocal work. " Walking Towards Paradise" sounds very much like the UK band Outfield, but again is mediocre at best.

Unfortunately this is only recommended for collectors, Robert Plant had much much more to offer in the 90/00's, still the diehards will enjoy no doubt.

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Send comments to Chris S (BETA) | Report this review (#349554)
Posted Friday, December 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The 80s and its constant corrupting companion, the MTV virus, was a difficult decade to navigate for all proggers no matter what one's particular category of choice is within the genre. The invigorating 'anything goes' spirit that fed and nurtured progressive rock throughout the 70s had been suppressed and subjugated by the onslaught of the sight over sound movement to the point where if a band or artist couldn't come up with a clever or sexy three-minute video to promote their music they were cast aside like yesterday's newspaper. While there were exceptions to the new and restrictive rule they were few and far between. For the most part the revered icons of prog were compelled to compromise or become totally irrelevant (not to mention insolvent). Robert Plant was but one of the industry giants that had to grapple with that dilemma. Somehow he had to attempt to retain his integrity and let his artistry continue to evolve freely while appeasing the younger generation who didn't give a crap that he and his bandmates in Led Zeppelin had set the planet on fire with their adventurous melding of blues, rock and exotic world beat sensibilities. To them he was just another grizzled, long-haired dude that their parents dug and their general attitude towards Robert (and every veteran in the biz) was one of 'Are you going to have some half naked chicks running around licking lollipops in your video or not? Otherwise, what's the point?' While some of you may think that's a gross over-exaggeration the proggers who lived and struggled through those dark times will back me up. It was a depressingly ugly scene to witness.

However, Mr. Plant was one of the more successful of the sixties/seventies survivors who was able to continue to pursue a career without completely capitulating to the new way of doing things, thereby shafting their loyal fans who'd made them stars. He did so by maintaining a lofty standard and being as true to himself as he could notwithstanding the circumstances he found himself in. After John Bonham's untimely death in 1980 Led Zeppelin had lost its locomotive and there was no replacing it, forcing the remaining three to find their own way going forward. Robert's solo efforts, while nowhere near as earth-shaking as what his former group had produced with regularity, were well-received so he was able to keep himself afloat while so many of his peers disappeared beneath the New Waves that saturated the industry. By the time he released 'Now and Zen,' his fourth CD, he'd established himself as a worthy banner-bearer of the analog era who, along with the likes of Bowie, Genesis and Rush had managed to straddle the fence enough to remain relevant. For that alone he deserves our admiration and gratitude.

The album starts spectacularly with 'Heaven Knows,' an energetic song that sports a very strong rhythm track and production values that dutifully reflect the state-of-the-art technology that characterized and dominated that period. It's a great tune and the full chorale on the chorus is extremely dynamic. It doesn't hurt that his reliable pal Jimmy Page drops in to contribute some blistering guitar work that serves as the deal-sealer. 'Dance on my Own' follows and it projects a decent hard funk vibe but the trendy 'glittering' keyboard effects tend to date the number wretchedly, lessening its overall impact and odds for longevity. However, Doug Boyle's deft guitar playing takes it up a noteworthy notch. 'Tall Cool One' is next and it's a driving rocker augmented by Mr. Page's magic fingers and ornamented with a wild assortment of digitized samples culled from various Led Zeppelin classics. While it wasn't a Top 40 hit, it garnered a ton of FM radio exposure and that no doubt increased album sales accordingly. It definitely possesses a deceptively simple structure but the hot electricity it emits makes it quite memorable and the ending montage is an undisputed trip. Chris Blackwell's aggressive drums propel 'The Way I Feel' respectably and I detect a slight Peter Gabriel feel in its undercurrent as well as a noticeable Police presence surfacing in Boyle's guitar style that I find intriguing. 'Helen of Troy' doesn't measure up, though. It's representative of the late 80s techno-funk craze that I never could adapt to because it was so dreadfully bereft of any semblance of soul. Despite its pristine clarity it fails to dignify itself. Its only saving grace is Plant's emotional vocal performance.

'Billy's Revenge' is a treat. A curious arrangement of harmonies during the intro leads to a proggy 6/4 verse pattern that piques my interest. It's impossible to pigeonhole this cut but it does own a kind of a raucous rockabilly aura that I enjoy. 'Ship of Fools' is another highlight of the proceedings. Robert's subtle singing enhances this rock ballad superbly and the light synthesized string section score gives it a haunting, dreamlike atmosphere. 'Why' follows and the tune itself might be passable but it's hard to tell due to the tinny New Wave-ish incidentals that clutter up the scenery unnecessarily. This is an example of what I wrote about earlier. It's understandable that Plant wanted to please the kiddos with up-to-date sounds, gadgets and gimmicks but it dooms the number to being a relic that couldn't stand the test of time. He recoups, though, with 'White, Clean and Neat.' It's a combination of a wide array of elements that grant the song an inviting mien while Robert's inimitable voice distinguishes it as his own unique creation. By far it is the most exploratory and progressive cut on the record. Unfortunately, he opts to go out with a thud. While Texan songwriter Jerry Lynn Williams composed excellent material for Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan, 'Walking Towards Paradise' isn't one of his better tunes. It fails to enhance on any level. Not only that but Plant's cover suffers from the inclusion of too much of that frivolous decade's studio trickery that detracts from any potential the number might have held initially.

'Now and Zen' hit the shelves on February 29, 1988 and steadily climbed the charts to the #6 position, further confirming that Robert still wielded a certain amount of clout. In comparison to the other inane schlock that was being foisted upon the public's collective ears in that woebegone era this was an oasis of sanity. As I've indicated in many other reviews of albums that were manufactured in the 80s, anything that even hinted that it had a hue of prog inside its shiny disc was to be cherished as extraordinary because, for all practical extents and purposes, prog was as dead as Mussolini. Thanks to people like Mr. Plant, the pilot light was never extinguished. 3.5 stars.

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#1181870)
Posted Sunday, June 01, 2014 | Review Permalink

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