Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Bloody Good Chap Hall of Fame: Robert Palmer

Fear not dear readers for I am currently writing an account of a most marvellous trip that I took to the Alsace last week! There's just so much of it I am struggling to pick the highlights, there were too many! In he meantime I want to draw you attention to a sadly missed bloody good chap from the world of music...

It's coming up to 10 years since singer Robert Palmer's passed away, and looking at the reviews that his albums (a few of which I own) are begrudgingly given an accolade or critically slated. The critics in question insist on bludgeoning his reputation with the same old 'style over substance' cudgel which they take to any alternative band/singer who finds overnight meteoric success with a pop record - they did it to Rod Stewart and Phil Collins so why shouldn't Palmer get the same treatment. 

It seems that many of them almost resent the fact that in ten year he achieve stellar success with an album of the yuppie era (Riptide, 1985 - which I have reviewed previously <insert link>), albeit a a great album with taught production, great writing and some incredible vocal performances. The way the critics review that album you'd think you'd purchased some mediocre guilty pleasure, but this is so far from the truth in a career that definitely had more highs than lows from a Yorkshireman with one of the finest voices in music. 

Of course he was not without a few stinkers in his back catalogue and 1983's 'Pride' is best forgotten except for a sterling remake of Kool & The Gang's 'You can have it (take my heart)' and a funky reinterpretation of The System's 'In my system'. But it is in these diamonds amongst the coals of the majority of 'Pride' that lay the root of Palmer's unique quality. much like Rod Stewart and Mick Hucknall their interpretations of other's compositions was as good, if not better, than their original writing. Palmer had a knack of adding his own unique stamp to a number of classics including 'Trick Bag' (1985), 'Pressure Drop' (1975), 'I didn't mean to turn you on' (1985), 'Mercy, Mercy Me/I Want You' (1990) - all delivered with the raw power of a man who would probably been as comfortable on a blues or heavy rock album as on the reggae- infused pop, new wave and slick soft rock that typified the music he made throughout his career. 

The other charm of Robert Palmer's music was his love of diverse genres and the great value he put in his influences which wee firmly routed in soul legends Billie Holliday, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye as well as a plethora of blues musician and reggae stars (most of which neither I, nor I'm sure many of you readers will have heard of before!). His albums, excluding the brilliant New Wave record 'Clues' (1980),  were not just of one genre they were a collection of different grooves Palmer had obviously picked-up on through his esoteric taste in music. Just listening to one of his most underrated albums 'Heavy Nova' (1988) or the epic 'Double Fun' (1978) there are just so many different sounds he could almost be the Todd Rundgren of 'Blue eyed soul'! 

Sadly, one of the reasons his reputation has suffered is through his association with his most famous song 'Addicted to Love' a song of the money making generation, featured in any 80s corporate film or anti capitalist documentary decrying the monstrosity of champagne swilling pinstripes with big glasses and bad haircuts! This is a pity as it is a great song, rooted in all the sensibilities of a great rock n roll track - I'd love The Rolling Stones to do a 60s pastiche of it! Granted it's not my most favourite Palmer but it is a great tune and a deserved hit. But of course the video with its backing band of monochromatic women in tight black dresses miming the instruments and Palmer in black tie, white shirt and suit trouser became (like Phil Collins's White Converse AllStars) a symbol of everything they hate... Success! 

It's easy to forget that Palmer was no chip of the block and his success was hard fought, having been plugging away  in the industry for fifteen year previous with his first band Vinegar Joe (alongside the legendary Elkie Brooks) and then as a solo artist with a number of minor hits - surely he deserved some walk in the sunshine after years of toil? Sadly he was greeted with critical snobbery but, thankfully, awesome sales and public plaudits.

A consummate tourer he was supposed to be a fantastic live act and in this arena it is said his voice really came into its own - I'm sorry I never got a chance to see him before his untimely death. He also had a great career as a collaborator and was always interested in exploring new avenues. 1984's 'The Power Station' was a wonderful meeting of minds between him, Duran Duran's Roger ad John Taylor and Chic's Tony Thompson to create a sadly neglected but rollickingly fun album which has easily got the best version of The Isley Brother's 'Harvest For the World' on it! 

I could go on for much longer about this fellow, how original his interpretations of other artists tunes were, what a good composer he could be when he got it right, and what a phenomenally entertaining experience his vocals are to listen to but I don't think I could keep your attention. Sadly Robert Palmer died suddenly in 2003 but I hope that this inspires you to either reappraise earlier thoughts or explore some of his back catalogue for the treasures they possess.

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