Pictures At Eleven was sweet relief for Zeppelin-starved fans still in shock over John Bonham’s death and the break up of Led Zepplin when it was released as Robert Plant‘s debut solo album in June 1982. However, this album soon got lost in the shadow of later works by Plant, which is unfortunate because pound-for-pound, this may be his finest work as a solo artist. Unlike those later efforts, this album is not dominated by keyboards, which gives space musically for guitarist Robbie Blunt to really shine. The album also displays some fine drumming by Phil Collins, who took time off from a dual career as front man for Genesis and his own fledgling solo work to step into the unenviable position of being the first drummer to back Plant since the 1960s. But of course the true talent here is Plant himself. He stepped up to compose (along with Blunt) some very interesting material which, while maintaining some traces of his previous life with Led Zeppelin, really takes a quantum leap into the new-wavish realm of the early 1980s.
Plant was in a unique state of mind during this period. He believed that the stardom in Led Zeppelin had in someway begotten the string of tragedies that struck his family in the late 1970s and, ultimately, Bonham with his death in 1980. In this light, he refused to perform any Zeppelin songs live and would not set out on a major tour until after he composed his second album, The Principle of Moments in 1983. For this debut solo album, Plant took the rock world by surprise, with a smoother and more stylized vocal style to complement the variety of diverse guitar motifs by Blunt. Still, Plant maintained the same high energy and dynamic output with some signature ad-libs and majestic wailing, which made him one of the most esteemed vocalists in rock.
Pictures At Eleven was also Plant’s debut as a producer and it has held up sonically through three decades. One critique of the sound is the very weak presence of bass by Paul Martinez, as Plant really focused on the guitars and drums in the mix. However, the performances are so strong by Blunt and Collins that Martinez is hardly missed.
Pictures At Eleven by Robert Plant
|Released: June 28, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Robert Plant
Recorded: Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales, 1982
|Side One||Side Two|
|Burning Down One Side
Moonlight In Samosa
|Worse Than Detroit
Like I’ve Never Been Gone
|Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Robbie Blunt – Guitars
Jezz Woodroffe – Keyboards
Paul Martinez – Bass
Phil Collins – Drums
The songs on Pictures At Eleven is generally standard in lyrical content, focused heavily on love, sex, and heartbreak. However, the bulk of the songs have odd and unexplained titles. “Pledge Pin” is one such title, nicely driven by Collins’ drumming and percussive effects, the song contains slow driving of musical rudiments and a great vocal melody by Plant. This song also features some extended saxophone by Raphael Ravenscroft and became a popular track on AOR radio. “Moonlight in Samosa” is a soft and pleasant ballad lead by Plant’s relatively new “crooning” voice (which he first developed on Zeppelin’s final album In Through the Out Door) and Blunt’s potpourri of guitar textures and styles. The song has a dramatic edge towards the end of the final verse.
Although most of the material is presented in a new fashion, there are two songs on that are most reflective of Led Zeppelin. “Slow Dancer” contains some vocal desperation and mechanically squeezed guitar riff. Couple this with the long, improvised length of song and you have an instant favorite for Zeppelin fans. This song features a fine performance by former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell in lieu of Collins. “Burning Down One Side” makes the most immediate impact on the Zeppelin fan as this has a topical feel as a plausible extension of that band. This opening track was the most popular from the album but disappointingly failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic.
Two of the most interesting songs on the album kick off the second side. The bluesy “Worse Than Detroit” almost feels like Jimmy Page and John Bonham are playing at parts, but here is a jam by Robbie Blunt and Phil Collins at their finest. A wild mid-section features harmonica by Plant, which is complemented later with the heavy slide riff of Blunt. “Fat Lip” is almost the polar opposite of “Worse Than Detroit”. It contains some electronic percussion and fine guitar motifs interspersed between variations of vocal parts – not quite verses nor choruses – but a very unique arrangement. It is really the only song on the album where keyboardist Jezz Woodroffe is prominent and he co-wrote the song.
“Like I’ve Never Been Gone” is a true ballad with just a flair of Spanish styling by Blunt. This song is a little overdrawn but still not totally unpleasant. “Mystery Title” closes the album with a zany guitar riff that predominates the beginning of the song gives way to some very interesting and diverse parts in near schizo fashion, although it all somehow works.
Pictures At Eleven was a solid and successful launching of Plant’s solo career and, although it didn’t contain any really popular individual songs, it was probably the most solid and consistent album he put out.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 music.