'Dreamland' reworks oldies with new sound

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

With seven out of 10 songs on "Dreamland" being covers, it seems as though Plant is phoning this one in, especially considering it's been nine years since his last solo record. Well, he is and he isn't.

Covers of folk rock songs like Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee," Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" and "Hey Joe," made most famous by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, are hardly novel. Yet, Plant and band mix this Western folk music with Eastern musical scales, drones and feel. Porl Thompson, guitarist for the Cure who went on to tour with Page and Plant, is largely responsible for this interesting direction. It's a full-on electronic reconstruction that examines sonic nuances that simply weren't available to the original artists when they recorded the songs.

Plant's voice is in surprisingly good shape. He may not be able to hit the high notes (read: shriek) like he used to, but his voice has now taken on a regal tone that only comes from years of experience. Unfortunately, he hasn't spent enough time with the songs as he should have. The cautionary nuclear war anthem "Morning Dew" presents a lot of peaks and valleys, as the Grateful Dead proved by making it a showstopper throughout most of its career. Here, generic string arrangements and an insipid reading rape the song of its inherent beauty.

When Plant and company strike, they strike pretty hard. "One More Cup of Coffee" becomes a trance-like groove that allows Plant to shine in the middle register. Buckley's "Song to the Siren" is very interesting in that it recalls Buckley's late son, Jeff, in its daring and inventiveness more than the father-songwriter. It's arguably the disc's finest effort. "Skip's Song," written by the late troubled genius Skip Spence of Moby Grape, sounds like it could've been a Zeppelin single during the height of their popularity.

"Dreamland" probably isn't worth such a long wait, but the idea behind it is bound to thrill most fans.