Robert Plant: Pictures At Eleven - Album Of The Week Club review

Instead of returning with a debut solo album that aped previous achievements, Robert Plant pleased himself on 1982's Pictures At Eleven

Robert Plant: Pictures At Eleven
(Image: © Swan Song)

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Robert Plant: Pictures At Eleven

Robert Plant: Pictures At Eleven

(Image credit: Swan Song)

Burning Down One Side
Moonlight In Samosa
Pledge Pin
Slow Dancer
Worse Than Detroit
Fat Lip
Like I've Never Been Gone
Mystery Title

In 1982 Robert Plant was in the classic no-win situation, two years after the death of his great friend John Bonham signalled the end of Led Zeppelin. So instead of returning with a debut solo album that aped previous achievements, he simply pleased himself. 

With the help of Phil Collins and the late Cozy Powell on drums, Pictures At Eleven was smooth, very sophisticated and full of clever, understated hooks

"As you can imagine, I took a million pains to try and create my own individual sound," Plant told us. "Halfway through the thing I stopped and said to Benji the engineer, a guy who was with us for years with Zeppelin, the PA man, I asked him: 'Is it close? Because if it’s close we stop!' And he said: 'Oh no, the mood’s totally different.'

"I was just trying to pull away as much as I could… but then again you can only pull away so far. I wanted to leave Zeppelin the way it was and… just pull those reins a little to the right."

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Other albums released in June 1982

  • Private Audition - Heart
  • Battle Hymns - Manowar
  • Built for Speed - Stray Cats
  • Chicago 16 - Chicago
  • Screaming Blue Murder - Girlschool
  • Killers - Kiss
  • Beat - King Crimson
  • Mirage - Fleetwood Mac
  • Daylight Again - Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Eye Of The Tiger - Survivor
  • Animation - Jon Anderson
  • Eye In The Sky - The Alan Parsons Project
  • Good Trouble - REO Speedwagon
  • Nugent - Ted Nugent
  • Sunshine Dream - The Beach Boys

What they said...

"If Robert Plant were young and hungry instead of nearly thirty-four and famous, this album might have been a real barn-burner. As it is, even though there’s nothing new going on in these grooves, the sheer formal thrill of hearing someone who knows exactly what he’s doing makes Pictures At Eleven something of an event almost in spite of its modest ambitions." (Rolling Stone

"The most apparent characteristic about the album's eight tracks is the fact that Plant is able to escape most of his past and still sound motivated. Without depending too much on his Led Zeppelin days, he courses a new direction without changing or disguising his distinct vocal style whatsoever. Pictures At Eleven peaked within the Top Five on both sides of the Atlantic, successfully launching Plant's solo career. (AllMusic)

"In some ways Pictures At Eleven picked up where In Through The Out Door left off, though it's a better record. There’s a similar variety about its songs. Opener Burning Down One Side is a Stonesy strutter with Keefish riffing and trademark toms-and-cymbals flexing from Collins. Moonlight in Samosa is a seductively Spanish-tinged mid-tempo affair with pretty link sections, draped in lavish keyboards. (BBC)

What you said...

Iain Macaulay: Paging Robert Plant. Has anyone seen Mr Plant? We know he’s here somewhere!

Mr Plant, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

OK, joking aside, while this is not a bad album, for me, there is nothing to really sink your teeth into. Most of the tracks seem to be a bit dialled in, hence the joke at the start. The writing, and the performance, lacks any spark to make it an album containing any memorable substance. There are better Robert Plant albums that stand the test of time and which could be considered to have a finger nail hold on that classic category title, unfortunately this is not one of them.

It’s almost as if he is wanting to branch out on his own but feels a bit apprehensive to cast off the legacy he’d spent the previous 12 years creating. If only he’d decided to start his solo career with an acoustic album instead.

Carl Black: This is more 80s than a pair of deeley boppers on top of a pair of leg warmers. Plenty of influences from around the time. 80s Rush, Talking Heads and one Led Zep song too, all played with a Chris Rea guitar sound. It's very much of its time and it's not aged well.

Alex Hayes: This was a good, solid start for Plant as a solo artist. I far prefer the second album though, The Principle Of Moments, which remains one of my favourite albums from 'Percy'. 

Bill Griffin: I guess it was to be expected after losing his son, probably his best friend, then his band but I always found this to be a melancholy and tentative affair. He seemed way more confident on his second album, but this one was still a good first step. Better, I might add, than any of Jimmy's various projects save the Coverdale/Page album, including Walking Into Clarksdale.

Paul Hutchings: Hadn't listened to this for years. It's definitely of its time, but Percy is one of the most important musicians this country has ever had. The start of his second career which is still going strong. Really enjoyed listening to it again.

Marco LG: In 1988, fourteen-year-old me was captivated by the video of Heaven Knows and despite knowing nothing about Robert Plant and his past glories decided to spend his weekly pocket money on the cassette tape of Now And Zen. It was a revelation, the album grew on me to the point I still play it regularly to this day. 

I arrived to Led Zeppelin much later, and it is fair to say I never entirely embraced Led Zeppelin in the same way I did Robert Plant. Now And Zen is however the fourth solo album by Robert Plant, released six years after this debut and, despite the presence of Jimmy Page and a few Led Zeppelin samples, it is arguably the first Robert Plant album with a clearly defined artistic direction.

Pictures At Eleven is an album suspended between two different musical personalities and dancing over the edge of two decades: outtakes from Led Zeppelin later years like Slow Dancer and Mystery Title coexist with softer, more adult oriented numbers like Moonlight In Samosa and Fat Lip. It is the sound of a man dealing with a massive legacy while trying to define his own artistic path, but while there might be value in seeing how the process unfolds the final results is not an album I would call a classic.

Despite all that, there is a lot to like in Pictures At Eleven, starting from the guitar work of Robbie Blunt and the drumming of Phil Collins. For this reason it deserves a good score in my opinion, albeit not a very high one.

Gary Claydon: Intriguing album, Pictures At Eleven. Oh, I know it might not seem that way now, but back then there were a lot of reasons to be very interested in its release. The first of the three remaining Zeppelineers to show his solo hand (if you don't count Jimmy Page's Death Wish II soundtrack) I personally couldn't wait to see what old Percy would come up with and I'll say right from the off, I wasn't the slightest bit disappointed. 

Of its time? Yeah, there is a clear early 80s feel to the production, especially the reverb on some of the vocals and the fact that Paul Martinez's bass gets a little lost but overall I think Plant does a decent job in the knob twiddlers chair and I don't think it's aged at all badly.The personnel he assembles around him is, not surprisingly, top notch. 

I don't really need to say anything about the drummers, Jezz Woodroffe's keyboards and synths don't overwhelm like was often the case in that period, Raphael Ravenscroft – of Baker Street fame – adds classy sax to Pledge Pin, but it's Robbie Blunt's guitar work that, alongside the vocals, really shines on this album. The songwriting, mainly in collaboration with Blunt, wasn't the strongest of Plant's career but there is some good stuff here.

Opener Burning Down One Side rocks smoothly then it's Percy the crooner for the pleasantly atmospheric Moonlight In Samosa. Pledge Pin opens with a slight tinge of The Police but soon settles into a groove with the aforementioned Ravenscroft sax adding some nice colour. Slow Dancer gives a slight nod of the head to Kashmir with its Eastern-flavoured arrangement. Worse Than Detroit has the feel of a bluesy jam at times, but features some neat slide work by Blunt which is nicely complimented by Plant's harmonica.

The laid back Fat Lip sees Woodroffe more prominent than elsewhere. The album closes with my favourite two tracks. Plant has always been able to produce the goods on slower, ballady tracks and he gives a fine, emotive performance on Like I've Never Been Gone, even though it meanders on a little too long, while Mystery Title gives Blunt another chance to shine.

At no point here does Ribert Plant cut loose but then he wasn't meant to. This was a smooth, almost understated start to his solo career. He would go on to make stronger, more interesting, much more diverse material but you know what? Pictures At Eleven still remains one of my favourite Robert Plant solo albums.

Brian Carr It seems odd to say now, but Led Zeppelin was actually a band I ‘discovered’ in the 80s rather than one (of many) I gleaned from my uncle (or my parents, for that matter). Eventually I went all in, for good reason. As far as Mr. Plant’s solo work, I remember In the Mood and Big Log getting quite a bit of MTV play and young me simply found those tunes fine but lacking anything that really grabbed me. Maybe that’s why I never sought out Plant’s early solo work. I did dig Now And Zen quite a bit and eventually purchased Manic Nirvana, though I don’t recall playing that one as often as Now and Zen.

At this point, I’ve reached the dreaded burnout point with much of the Zep catalogue, which has made Physical Graffiti my hands down favourite, and made this week’s album choice an absolute joy to discover. I don’t recall hearing any of these tracks in my preteen years, though I’ve heard them recently on some of the eighties themed radio shows I listen to on the weekends. Maybe the production is full eighties, but I love the songs and the playing throughout (even though the song titles confuse the crap out of me). 

Plant famously tried to distance himself from his previous band but isn’t ready to quit them completely here: Slow Dancer has the requisite Bonzo drum sound and I found Worse Than Detroit quite reminiscent of the poppier/groovier moments of Led Zep’s output. My primary takeaway is the joy I found hearing Plant’s voice on songs I haven’t heard a bajillion times, causing me to take it for granted. Pictures At Eleven makes me want to delve deeper into his solo work and possibly appreciate his contributions to the music world more than I have over the past few decades.

John Davidson: I've tried to approach this album from two angles. The first as a progression for Plant after Zep. The other as if this had landed freshly as a different artist without any expectations.

Opener Burning Down One Side sounds like a tame off-cut from In Through The Out Door. That it's one of the better tracks on the album probably says as much about me as it does about the album.

Moonlight.. is understated but the guitar work elevates it despite the slightly cheesy keyboards.

Pledge Pin reminds me of 80s Rush. It's not bad at all and the drumming has some groove, but then the saxophone kicks in and suddenly it sounds like a product of its time.

Slow Dancer should be heavy. It has the intent to be, but the arrangement lacks the brooding power to evoke the mood of a Kashmir.

Worse than Detroit has a bit more fire in its belly. With a bluesy groove and layered guitars this is the closest the album comes to classic Zep (albeit Houses Of The Holy rather than II, III or IV).

Fat Lip returns us to 80s lounge rock, it's not bad but it is so safe it's almost offensively middle of the road.

Like I've Never Been Gone is the kind of slow blues rocker that Zep made their mark with but sadly it's arranged more like a lounge room ballad, lacking any emotional heft. The tempo and even the guitar sound are almost chirpy when it should be drenched in tears (the live version is marginally better).

Mystery Title is a faster blues shuffle, but again it lacks oomph although the guitar solo is pretty good.

Far Post verges on country rock and is actually a decent song that I might have listened to without Plant's name on it. The piano refrain is so much better than the keyboard sound on other tracks I'm left thinking the whole album might have benefited from a bolder change of sound. It's also the first song that sounds like the band are all playing the same song, the same way and actually feeling it.

So overall, not a bad album, but there is something missing from the performance, the musical arrangement and production.

It's not surprising that a singers solo effort might struggle to hit the highs of a band chock full of talent. Page and Jonesy brought tremendous musical skill and knowledge into the studio. Bonham brought power and finesse to the beats. That's not to write off the musicians here but they just aren't operating at the levels of understanding of each other that Plant benefited from before.

Worth revisiting for sure, and I like it better than I did at the time it came out, but there's nothing hooking me in to want to add it to my collection.

Mike Knoop: Upon first listen, I am taken back to the "Great Dad Rock Debate" of 2018 that flared up in response to the club pick, Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. If this album rocks, it generally rocks gently.

But as I have often learned with this club, not rocking is not the kiss of death I was once thought it was. While there is no way teenage me was ready for this album - Heck, at that time I had even written off Zeppelin as "old hippie music", but old and more open-minded me likes it quite a bit.

As others have noted, Burning Down One Side pretty much picks up where In Through The Out Door left off and Worse Than Detroit could be one of the less gloomy tracks on Presence. Slow Dancer shows Plant can still put together a great epic, albeit a kind of sad Kashmir, with his vocals weaving in and out through Jezz Woodroffe's synthesisers and Robbie Blunt's guitars, while Cozy Powell booms like Bonham.

But it's not all "Lite Zeppelin". Pledge Pin and Fat Lip are pleasing little new wave numbers in all but vocals. I don't normally call out the bonus tracks, but Far Post is especially fine, the highlight being Woodroffe's keyboard solo that is more Ray Manzarek than mainstream 80s.

With melancholy tracks like Like I've Never Been Gone and Moonlight in Samosa, and the aforementioned Slow Dancer and Far Post, Pictures At Eleven feels like Plant's breakup album, and I guess it kind of is. A goodbye to Led Zeppelin and the legend of the Golden God.

But then Plant and company end with a surprise. Original closer Mystery Title is probably the closest to the sound of heyday Zep, with Blunt and, on this track, Phil Collins doing pretty good approximations of Pagey and Bonzo. And, well, Robert Plant doing a great impression of a much younger Robert Plant. He's not hitting Percy's old range but the song would have fit nicely on the second half of Physical Graffiti.

Funny thing is that I've long been a big fan of Plant's solo work - but only since 2002's mesmerising Dreamland, and the mystic folk that followed. Apparently I need to check out what he was doing in the two decades before that.

Ian Kingston: I bought this on vinyl when it was released, and I must have liked it enough to buy its successor (The Principle of Moments). But while I've continued to listen to the latter, Pictures At Eleven simply got forgotten. So much so that on re-listening it rings no bells at all - almost as though I'd never heard it. Very strange. Anyhow - it's OK, but I'm not likely to listen again.

Gary Bowyer: Bought it when it was released as I thought the combination of Phil Collins and Cozy Powell on drums would give it something special but it was not to be. The best I can say is that it isn't terrible, it's OK.

Marco LG: I’m probably the only music fan in the planet who prefers the solo work of Robert Plant to much of Led Zeppelin catalogue... this is a treat!

Keith Jenkin: Great album, in many ways a logical progression from the more varied material on In Through The Out Door and just how good is Robbie Blunt's guitar playing!

Trace Anderson: Yes, time has served this album well. Yes, Cozy Powell and Phil Collins make some headlines, but Robbie Blunt's guitar playing is sublime.

Make sure to read the liner notes and check the history of the rest of the musicians. I believe that the sax player is the same gentleman who played on Baker Street.

Colin Livesey: When it was released we didn't know what to expect. At the time I thought it was great, a new development and hint of where Zep might have gone with tracks like Burning Down One Side, Slow Dancer, Like I've Never Been Gone and Moonlight In Samosa. Over time those tracks still stand out for me. It's half a great album. Picking up after Page in a band with Plant can't have been easy but Robbie Blunt put some great guitar down on this.

Saw the tour and for the life of me can't remember what else the band played but clearly remember all the calling out for Zep songs and of course Plant steadfastly refusing. We were disappointed at the time (even though he said he wouldn't play any before the tour) but can see now he was looking forward. Saw Plant last year and happily he now includes a fair mix of LZ in the set.

Darren Burris: I gotta say I wasn’t real wild about it when it came out. I liked a couple of tracks but it’s just a little too polished and slick for me. I hear a little In Through The Out Door in it but would like it to be a little rougher and maybe have a couple more rockers on it. It’s ok but not anything I’m gonna put on and listen to very often. 

Tony Woods: On release I must admit to not being a huge fan, played it a bit put it away and didn't revisit for some time. Glad I did because going back to it 10 years later I appreciated it so much more and still do today. He has such a varied body of solo work.

John Edgar: A really good album. This came out in 1982, and honestly, it fell well outside of my normal 1982 playlist. In 82 I was more into Gamma, Rainbow, Frank Marino, Scorpions, etc. Our local album rock station and MTV started playing cuts off of this release pretty much simultaneously. I was immediately taken by the overall smoothness of the band and the tastiness of the songs. I immediately bought the album and thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. I still spin the CD regularly and buying the 2007 remastered version was a no- brainer for me. Recommended.

Chris Poteat: To echo the sentiments of several earlier posts, this was a record that I didn't really like way back when, but time has been very kind to it. I love it now... and appreciate it more and more as the years go by. And yeah, Robbie Blunt is such an overlooked/underrated guitarist.

Roland Bearne: I was just in the first stages of my Road to Damascus with rock music, punk had suddenly paled in comparison to the likes of Zeppelin, Rush, Van Halen, AC/DC et al and then... boom, Bon Scott dies. Boom, John Bonham dies (or was it vice versa? anyway...) and Zeppelin, so recently discovered were no more. 

You can imagine my joy on discovering that Robert Plant was going to go solo. I was into town and down the record shop like white powder up a rock star's hooter! The pristine disc was placed on the platter and, um wass this? It was nice but no crashing bombast, no banshee howling? I was puzzled but actually intrigued. 

Suffice it to say it was a quick grower and huge fun to figure out Robbie Blunt's licks too (what a beautiful, tasteful player he is!). There isn't a duff track here for me, but Slow Dancer is particularly mesmeric! This record very quickly became a firm favourite. And it was "mine". It was as though he had released this just for me! None of my friends were even interested. The older Zep crowd poo-pooed and that was fine for me, if I was the only one to "get it" that's fine with me. 

I still play this today, and Principle Of Moments and ... the rest (only Shaken And Stirred continues to leave me scratching my head!). Plant's musical journey and appetite for always looking forward is unique and inspirational. 

Of his generation and genre there are few if any who have been on such a journey (I would say Rush, but sadly, no more). Deep Purple continue to explore but it's Robert Plant who has ventured into unexplored musical jungles and emerged with tales and musical recipes which continue to delight and fascinate. Here at last, is my 10.

Final Score: 7.47⁄10 (131 votes cast, with a total score of 979)

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