Picks and Pans Review: Manic Nirvana

updated 04/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Robert Plant

Sorry, folks, the Turkish bazaar is closed today. But sashay right this way; the dance club is now open.

Plant, who in his solo career has given us some of the most exotically flavored rock music in memory, turns in a more conventional, commercial direction with Manic Nirvana. (Why shouldn't he? Groups like Whitesnake are racking up monster sales peddling dulled-up copies of his music.) Plant's hit-bids here include the straight-ahead rocker "Hurting Kind (I've Got My Eyes on You)," which sounds just like Billy Squier. So would "Tie Dye on the Highway," except that Plant imbues it with a modified version of the misty mood he has been soft-focusing songs with since his Led Zeppelin days.

He also assays the hammer-and-anvil beat of "Big Love" and the U2-meets-speed-metal style of "Nirvana." As on his last album, Now and Zen, Plant experiments with some eccentric sampling, throwing an electrifying snatch from James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" into his "S S S & Q." On "Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night," a song that resembles a nuclear version of the Dave Clark Five's "Bits and Pieces," he also pulls a lyrical quote from Led Zeppelin.

Plant still can't tame his penchant toward experimentation, as "I Cried" and "She Said" prove, but these compositions are not up to his prior achievements in bending the rock song form. Luckily, he has an adaptable band, made up of drummer Chris Blackwell, guitarist Doug Boyle, keyboardist Phil Johnstone and bass player Charlie Jones, all of whom seem able to follow the singer in any direction he might choose.

If you look upon Plant as a musical innovator, then this is the least fulfilling of his five solo releases. But if you just want to stomp and spin in front of the stereo, this tightly arranged and cleanly produced collection may be the ticket. (Es Paranza/Atlantic)

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