Robert Palmer, The Soul Of Suave

Publié le par olivier

It really doesn't matter that Robert Palmer had a long and semi-respectable career in pop in the 1970s, and only his most avid fans care that he recorded in the '90s and on into the '00s. For time immemorial, the Armani-clad soul man, who died yesterday at the age of 54, will be remembered for a four-minute performance in 1985, when he sang before a group of supermodels, all of them feigning boredom.

Fame is funny that way. The video for Addicted To Love became one of the hallmark images of the '80s -- replayed a jillion times, then imitated, then satirized -- and it stuck to Palmer like toilet paper on a shoe. The song itself, which he wrote and sang, spent 22 weeks in the top 100. But the song was overshadowed by the video, even though the video was created to promote the song. In a list of greatest-ever videos, compiled by MTV at the end of the millennium, Love came in eighth, ahead of Michael Jackson's Beat It and Duran Duran's Hungry Like The Wolf.

It had something. You'd be tempted to say it was the models, except in the mid-'80s, every other video had models. It wasn't the song, a slowed-down take on the T. Rex approach to riff rock, or the lyrics, which teased the timeless cliche of romance as a habit-forming narcotic. There was something in Palmer's persona, a kind of secret-agent suavity, that worked with those short-skirted bombshells, all of whom looked like interchangeable mannequins, only very much alive. They were pretending to play guitars, but weren't putting much energy into faking it. They were just preening, in tops that were nearly sheer. The message was: We can't actually play, silly. We're just hot.

And the implication, too, was that Palmer knew these ladies. Or maybe dated them. All of them. At the same time. You might be addicted to love, buddy, but love was addicted to Robert Palmer. His big problem was keeping his harem busy while he shot his new video.

Inevitably, Addicted was accused of sexism. Palmer claimed that he was surprised by the criticism, and that he never met the models. He lip-synced against a blue screen, he said, and the gals were edited into the picture later. He reprised the same somnambulant-babe aesthetic for the video Simply Irresistible, but when he dropped his stable of darlings, his mass audience dropped him, too. Palmer spent his post-Addicted years the way he spent his pre-Addicted ones: experimenting with various shades of blue-eyed American soul, R&B, rock, blues and anything else that interested him.

Palmer started with Sneaking Sally Through the Alley, a 1974 hit which he'd recorded with members of Little Feat. From there, he ventured into reggae (with a cover of Toots and the Maytals's Pressure Drop), calypso-flavored pop (Every Kind Of People) synthesizer club music (Looking For Clues) and rock, with members of Duran Duran for a side project called Power Station.

All that genre-leaping led to the charge of dilettantism, in part because Palmer could jump so effortlessly and in part because he looked too good to take seriously. If ever a rocker was too debonair for his own good, it was Robert Palmer.

He never did an interview, and rarely did a show, without getting around to Addicted. He knew it was his legacy, even before Shania Twain lifted the video's motif for her single Man, I Feel Like A Woman. Her version reversed the genders of the original, placing Twain in front of a bunch of boytoys, a joshing, take-that act of revenge. Michelle Shocked did her own parody, as did Paula Abdul and, during a Pepsi commercial, Britney Spears.

Even when Palmer's most famous song is long forgotten, it seems, the image of him and those leggy ladies will endure. Addicted To Love is going to outlast us all. Might as well face it.

 

David Segal (The Washington Post - 27 septembre 2003)