Edsel Records [Release date 26.08.13] 2-CD reissues
Robert Palmer came to the music buying public’s attention with Vinegar Joe in 1971 and for a time he formed a formidable singing partnership with Elkie Brooks. Palmer’s transformation to a suave, smart–suited, soul crooner may have irked some fans, but what is not in doubt is the man’s talent.
He had a particular skill in identifying suitable material, keeping abreast of trends, as well as writing his own songs and sharing production duties. He was a multi-instrumentalist. And of course he was a fine singer.
It is this diversity, and the sometimes eclectic nature of his offering, that often confused listeners. For those who lapped up his soulful side, there would be others who disliked the cod-reggae (‘Pressure Drop’) or the calypso (‘The Silver Gun’) or the downright weird (Si Chatouillieux).
Edsel have already released the late-eighties albums on EMI (up to 1994′s ‘Honey’) which are reviewed elsewhere. Now come a volley of reissues, originally on Island Records, and in usual Edsel fashion all nicely annotated and expanded wherever possible with bonus tracks.
If Palmer was to some extent prey to musical tastes of the time (late-1970s and 1980s), fortunately he surrounded himself with great musicians who lent gravitas and durability. The Meters and Lowell George are amongst those assisting on the southern-rock flavoured solo debut, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley (1974) whilst Little Feat were to provide back up on the following year’s Pressure Drop.
Now re-located to New York, Palmer seemed perfectly at home crafting ‘Give Me An Inch’ and ‘Back In My Arms’ (both with fine orchestrations by Gene Paul) and at times giving the album an updated Motown feel aided by the added credibility of legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson and drummer Ed Greene.
Palmer was always open to different musical styles and influences and the title track is one of several reggae tracks that permeate his repertoire.
Six bonus tracks include the previously unreleased acoustic demos ‘Willie’ and ‘Hope We Never Wake’. ****
Little Feat provided continuity on Some People Can Do What They Like (1976) whilst Double Fun includes an Andy Fraser (ex-Free) song ‘Every Kinda People’ (one of three Andy Fraser songs included in these reissues). There are no bonus tracks on this 2-CD reissue. ***1/2
Palmer never rested on his laurels either, because for 1979′s Secrets he moved in a more mainstream pop-rock orientated direction (as epitomised by the live favourite ‘Jealous’).
The southern rock flavours had all but been replaced by a mix of originals and covers (including Todd Rundgren’s ‘Can We Still Be Friends’ and Dennis Linde’s ‘Under Suspicion’). The bonus is a 12 inch mix of one of the album’s hot singles ‘Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor).
Clues (1980) reflects the synth-pop musical taste of the day and Palmer’s fascination at the time with the work of Gary Numan (of ‘Cars’ fame) whom he invited to contribute to the album. It really marks the start of Palmer’s more extensive use of keyboards and electronics in his own music.
This reached fruition with one of the four outtakes ‘Si Chatouillieux’ that appears with the six live recordings that made up 1982′s stop-gap Maybe It’s Live. This piece originally appeared on the Talking Heads ‘Remain In Light’ album and is a weird fusion of French spoken language and synthesised funk. But it does show that Palmer was prepared to stretch any comfort zone.
A bonus alternate version of ‘Johnny And Mary’ (the original was subsequently used in a Renault TV ad), ‘What Do You Care’ and the non-album B-side ‘Good Care Of You’ complete this disc. ***
The fourth of these packages features 1983′s Pride which saw Palmer maintain and beefing up the synth/dance approach, yielding the excellent ‘You Are In My System’ (actually a cover of a song by Miami dance outfit The System) and also included as a bonus instrumental and 12″ version along with several other 12″ mixes.
Palmer had admired Rupert Hine’s ‘Immunity’ album and his use of synthesised orchestration and invited his contribution.
Riptide (1985) finally established Palmer’s international career with the hugely successful ‘Addicted To Love’ helped as it was by an iconic video and exposure on MTV.
The album doesn’t start promisingly with the deceptive title track but things soon crank up with ‘Hyperactive’ and ‘I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On’. Riptide saw Palmer working again with fellow-Power Station members Tony Thompson (Chic) and Andy Taylor (Duran Duran) and several tracks have the same spirit as that band’s 1985 debut album.
The ballad ‘Get It Through The Heart’ (and the title track) presages his lounge lizard style on the later album ‘Ridin High’. The ubiquitous 12″ mixes crop us as bonuses but this reissue also includes two previously unreleased songs, the excellent soundtrack song ‘Sweet Lies’, and a couple of live tracks from The Tube TV show. ****
This September (2013) marks the tenth anniversary of Palmer’s untimely death from a heart attack at the age of 54. He is perhaps maligned for his commercial career direction much in the same way as Phil Collins was never really forgiven for his own commercial sorties outside of Genesis.
These reissues do much to restore a sense of balance. Admittedly these albums are patchy and they probably chime more with the age in which they were produced, but those whose interest is stirred should start with the ‘Pride/Riptide’ reissue and then work backwards.
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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