Fate Of Nations

Robert Plant

Atlantic, 1993


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


This is the disc that marked the turning point in Robert Plant’s solo career – the moment that he grew up, synthesized his folk, blues and rock influences, and added a healthy dose of world music. From 2002 forward, this has pretty much been the norm on every Plant album, and because he spent the back half of the 1990s touring and writing with Jimmy Page, it is easy to overlook this album as an important transition.

Fate Of Nations is a sprawling disc of the sort that yields pleasures after multiple listens. There are no easy pop or rock singles that come to mind, and many of the tracks stretch into the five- and six-minute range. Moreover, the range of exotic instruments and sounds may come as a surprise to those who forgot just how varied and diverse Led Zeppelin really was. The end result winds up being one of Plant’s better solo discs, lacking maybe the punch of Now & Zen but showcasing a range and vulnerability that Plant really needed at this point in his career.

Lyrically, Plant has more on his mind this time than the horizontal bop; he addresses global concerns (akin to the album cover) on “Network News,” writes a moving mash note to his then-crush Alannah Myles on “29 Palms,” and, surprisingly, includes a tribute to his deceased son Karac. As Zep fans knows, Karac died in 1977 while Plant was on tour; he wrote “All My Love” about it at the time, but this time the song is a little more personal, approachable and poppier in its musical sound. It received some radio play at the time ad remains an album highlight.

Pretty much every song has some sort of worldbeat influence, much of it from the violin, harmonium, and hurdy gurdy instrumentation, with a hint of English/Irish folk coming in at times thanks to guest spots from Richard Thompson and Maire Brennan, but it is used for color and shade instead of a basis for songwriting, which remains midtempo rock and roll. “Calling To You” is one of the better examples of this; other reviewers have likened it to “Kashmir” because it’s an easy comparison, but about the only things it shares with that classic song are the tempo and a similar yearning, traveling spirit. Granted, it’s not inconceivable to imagine the song on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Physical Graffiti, but given what follows on the rest of Fate Of Nations, it’s almost like a farewell to the past.

The near-Arabic/Moroccan sound of “Down To The Sea” is darn near revolutionary for Plant at this time and a sound he and Jimmy Page would explore further on 1994’s No Quarter tour (specifically, “Yallah”). “Come Into My Life” and “The Greatest Gift” are slower but no less compelling, and the cover of “If I Were A Carpenter” is quite good, as is Plant’s vocal performance on “29 Palms,” specifically the wordless “aaah” buildup from each chorus. And the loping, confident “Memory Song” layers electric and acoustic guitars with Plant’s minor-key, difficult vocal spot and a long instrumental fadeout.

As with Plant’s solo releases up to this point, there are a few areas of synthesizer washes that date the record a bit as well as a couple of inessential songs, such as on “Promised Land,” most of “Great Spirit” (sans a very good guitar solo), and “The Greatest Gift,” which squanders a good opening by going on too long. However, the angry closer “Network News” bubbles over with the themes of the album set to a pulse-racing beat and pointed lyrics: “Flags, princes, kings / Patriotic tools / As freedom lies in twisted heaps / Whose final breath his soul to keep.”

Fans of the original album will likely want the remastered version with six extra tracks, including the fantastic acoustic “Colours Of A Shade” (a song it’s easy to get lost in), a psychedelic-rock rarity called “Rollercoaster,” an acoustic version of “Great Spirit,” the folk ditty “8:05” and the awkward bad idea “Dark Moon,” which should have stayed in the studio.

For those who wondered when Plant broke out of his Zeppelin shell for the first time and got real, Fate Of Nations is definitely worth a listen. It shows a true artist coming into his own instead of being tethered to the past (which, granted, can be both comforting and lucrative and therefore difficult to abandon). Indeed, Plant would reunite with Page for a few more years right after releasing this one, putting the sound and sentiment of Fate Of Nations on hold until he resumed his solo career in 2002. It’s a good but not essential album and one that will yield rewards for fans and the curious.

Rating: B-

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