Saturday, June 15, 2002

'Darkness, Darkness': Robert Plant song review of the day (No. 3 of 10)

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

Today's song is "Darkness, Darkness." The song was first released by the Youngbloods in 1968 (on the album Elephant Mountain and as the A-side of a single the following year). The original sounded almost Celtic in nature. Fiddles introduced the melody, and it was a tune that could have been danced to. On the original, recorded when fuzz-tone guitars were a popular staple, a hook vocal line at the end of the chorus was duplicated with a searing electric guitar.

Robert Plant's new version is much more somber than the original. There are no fiddles, and there's no dancing. Instead, there's anguish in his voice, as if he's truly feeling the lyrics: "Take away the pain of knowing; fill this emptiness with light." His performance is really convincing; you have to feel sorry for the guy! Fortunately, fans who put up with the moodiness of Led Zeppelin tracks like "No Quarter" and "I'm Gonna Crawl" should be able to stomach the feeling.

John Baggot initiates the track with a placid and deceptively warm electric piano. Then a delicate soundtrack underscores Robert's voice: Drummer Clive Deamer keeps the rhythm with a lone ride cymbal. A few brief lines later, chords strummed on acoustic guitar comes into the picture, followed quickly by bassist Charlie Jones nicely slipping into the mix. Then Deamer switches to a medium pulse on drums for the next verse.

Each stanza of lyric is met by an increase in intensity -- not necessarily in volume. If the mark of a good band is the recognition of the difference between volume and intensity, then Robert has a good band in the Strange Sensation.

After the first chorus, the electric guitar and bass experiment with some minor-ninth chords. Doing this leaves the song sounding intentionally open. The chords sound like they're initiating questions. Plant's singing seems to continue this. Reconstructing the Youngbloods' melody at the hook, he uses a few key notes from the Strange Sensation's interesting chord choice.

A few bars of Baggot vamping on electric piano precede just as many bars of an electric guitar solo. The guitar's sound benefits from heavy reverb and what sounds like an Octavizer effect. All the notes come from the Aeolian mode but for one instance of a flat five. It's tough to know whether that particular note was borrowed from a blues scale or imported from an Eastern scale. The beauty of the Strange Sensation is that it could really be either.

Instead of the song merely ending the way it came in, an enduring chord in the background comes to the fore, ushering in a heavy rock coda that continues for the next minute and through a very long fadeout. Among the tricks Robert pulls out during the final section are the "C'mon baby" rhythm he used on "Come into My Life" from his previous solo album -- itself a throwback to Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Mak'er." Plant also throws in some high notes that are reminiscent of the very early days of Led Zeppelin -- the same time the Youngbloods recorded this song. All in all, this song does a great tribute to the music and to the era.

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