“I disappeared up my own rectum,” he says proudly of his embracing of new technology in the early years of his solo career. “It wasn’t appropriate, coming from Valhalla, that I should be doing anything apart from being that same old person for the rest of my life.”
Plant never did return to Valhalla, then or since. Instead, his post-Zep journey has taken him all over the map, geographically and musically. This Digging Deep collection charts that journey chronologically, via 16 tracks (mostly single A-sides) on eight seven-inch vinyl records.
You can hear Plant pushing away his own past on his early solo releases: the synth stabs of 1983’s Burning Down One Side, the following year’s moody travelogue Big Log, the cut-and-paste sampling of 1985’s Talking Heads-inspired Too Loud (admittedly the latter fell short of the contemporary cool he was aiming for, prompting the Zeppelin-referencing Tall Cool One as a more guitar-centred corrective three years later).
But Plant is that rare musician whose output has got consistently better with age. The songs he released throughout the 90s and beyond were the sound of an artist slipping free of his moorings and drifting wherever the spirits took him, from the deserts of North Africa (on the iridescent Shine It All Around) to the highways of California (the effortlessly airy 29 Palms, still his finest solo single) and back to the wind-battered Welsh headlands (his graceful cover of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren).
A genuine music fan like Plant knows there’s magic in its physical manifestation too, and Digging Deep is as much artefact as compilation. The eight discs are housed in hardback book-style packaging, their individual sleeves hinged like pages; each disc has had its centre popped out, ready for some real or imagined jukebox. Thankfully an old-fashioned spiral record ‘middle’ is included.
There are omissions: liner notes would have been nice (presumably the podcast will eventually cover all the tracks here). More frustratingly, it doesn’t show off the full breadth of his career: The Honeydrippers and Page & Plant eras are both skipped over, and there’s nothing at all from the last 15 years, a period which has produced some of his finest and most interesting music. But what is here is inarguably great, as both a set of songs and an insight into one man’s ongoing journey.
Valhalla will have to wait a while longer.