Monday, 28 February 2011

This Chap's Classic Album Reviews: Robert Palmer's 'Riptide' (1985)

As one of the most underrated artists of all time, I feel that there is no better place to kick off This Chap's Classic Album Review than with Robert Palmer’s 1985 Chart Topper Riptide.

If there was ever an album which defined yuppie-dom it is this one, and although it is the follow up album Heavy Nova that features heavily in Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho this is the one that set the ball rolling (and for a start it is a better album).

By 1984 Palmer had gained the reputation as something of a maverick. There was no consistent style between his albums, which many put down to his keenness to adapt his musical output to the trends of the time. His first albums Sneaking Sally Through the Alley and Pressure Drop were a blend of crunching blues and blue-eyed soul; followed by the funk and disco tinged pop of Some People Can Do What The Like and (the appropriately titled) Double Fun (both showing him in stereotypical 70s style with leggy blondes, wing collars and kidney shaped swimming pools). Then Palmer made a radical about turn with his first album of the 1980s Clues (1980), embracing the growing Electronic and declining New Wave scenes he finally broke through the UK market with the album’s title track and the sombre single Johnny and Mary. Surely, with such an eclectic and wide-ranging style, he was destined to have some success.

Unfortunately, whilst Palmer remained a fantastic live draw with a loyal fan base, he had failed to monopolise on the initial success of Clues. The follow-up album (released after lengthy touring), Pride (1983), was disjointed and patchy, more filler than killer. So it is at this junction in Palmer’s career that once again we find the singer trying to reinvent his sound. It was whilst in New York on a gruelling tour schedule that Palmer met John and Andy Taylor (The rhythm section for chart toppers Duran Duran) who were on a lengthy hiatus. Along with Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson from Chic they would form the hard rocking super group Power Station. Their one and only eponymous album was full of Edward’s slick production as well as gated drum beats (as made popular by Phil Collins) hard edged, driven guitars and heavy assorted percussion. It was the spark for the success that Palmer had found elusive over the previous ten or so years.

Propelled by the success of Power Station Palmer set to recording what to my mind is his best and most iconic album – Riptide. Similar in style to Power Station it develops the sound they started whilst giving more prominence to Palmer’s unique vocal sound. As soon as you hear the album’s signature tune, ‘Addicted to Love’, you might as well be on the set of Miami Vice cruising around the sun drench strip in pastel suits and aviator sunglasses. A number of critics have unfairly claimed that this track embodies the theme of the album, cheaply using it to accuse Palmer of sacrificing substance for style. I can’t quite believe this as the album is so much more than ‘Addicted to Love’.

Yes there are some throwaway tracks such as ‘Flesh Wound’ and ‘Discipline of Love’, which to my mind are straight off the mid 80s production line. However, there are plenty of gems which more than make up for this. The spare, synclavier heavy, reinterpretation of Earl King’s ‘Trick Bag’ showcases Palmer’s awesome blues voice and makes one question why he didn’t do more of this stuff in his lifetime. This is neatly juxtaposed by the silky smooth, ultra-yuppie, slow burner ‘Get it Through your Heart’ and marvellously betrays his crooner credentials. Another cover comes in the form of Cherrelle’sI Didn’t Mean to Turn You On’ (my favourite cut on the album) which whilst sounding completely different from the original Prince-influenced original. My hands are already aching from typing this as I feel that this is an album that should be selling itself, it is such a fun, well crafted and soulful record!

I feel that a number of naysayers dismiss a number of albums too readily because not every song is of hit quality, but is it not more important that there are a four or five really strong, really awesome tracks amongst a bit of padding? I think that this is the case with Riptide. It is true that you could argue that Palmer has put out a better album musically, but for energy, atmosphere and sheer joy of the moment this has to take precedence over the rest of his catalogue.  Therefore I urge you to pick up a copy off iTunes, Amazon or whatever you use to download your music and I promise that you will not be disappointed!   

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