Robert Palmer may be the Cary Grant of the music business. Like Grant, he has an elegant manner, look and delivery. His music intrigues the listener with its seeming simplicity and pulsating rhythms. Palmer has managed to mix the new with old standards, creating a sound that's all his own and sucessful. His recent Riptide album was a N°1 hit. It contained several hits including Addicted To Love and I Didn't Mean To Turn You On.
He is currently on tour across the country in support of his first album for EMI-Manhattan Records, Heavy Nova. The new release shows every indication of following the success of Riptide. It was the heaviest played record on radio stations in its first week and on Sept. 10 was N°11 and climbing on the best-selling chart. On that date, Simply Irresistible was N°3 and climbing on the best-selling singles chart.
The tour, which will take Palmer to 60 cities, is a mix of old and new, with an incredible light show added. Palmer insists on a tour of one-nighters.
"I prefer it," says the 39-year-old singer by telephone from his Massachusetts hotel room. "When you have a night off, you lose momentum. We (the band) enjoy playing together and it takes a couple of weeks before the show starts to jell. The dynamics of any show don't really start to pick up until you're out three or four weeks. The songs convey a mood, so the first few weeks you're just learning a part."
Palmer has been married 18 years. The family, which includes two children, lives in Lugano, Switzerland, after 10 years in the Bahamas.
Heavy Nova combines Heavy Metal with Bossa Nova. Palmer's music reflects his interest in different rhythms from all over the world. That interest was cultivated while growing up on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. There he was exposed to sounds from Africa and the Middle East.
"I collect music from all over the world," Palmer says. "I have for 18 years. It helps in the real drought periods like Christmas when the music is not very interesting."
The different sounds of his childhood blended with the records from his parents' collection such as Nat "King" Cole, Lena Horne and Peggy Lee. Songs they sang sometimes have a strange way reappearing.
Palmer says, "I had written this song and my mother called, so I played it for her. She said,"That's another song." I said "It can't be because I just wrote it." A couple of days later she called back and played me It Could Happen To You by Peggy Lee. It was my song." He laughs, "I decided to record it."
Palmer continues, "I don't sit down at my typewriter with an empty piece of paper and say, "I'm going to write a hit." I just get an idea. Songs are floating around in the air and I write them down. If there isn't any inspiration, the song doesn't get written.
I don't taylor my music to a certain market. You want ro write a song that you'll enjoy performing. It would be horrible to write a song that you hated, only to have it become a hit and you had to play it all the time."
In addition to It Can Happen To You on the album, he has also recorded Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming, which was originally done by the Jacksons. Palmer's version is a duet with his backup singer B.J. Nelson.
"We'd been doing it in the show for some time. It was a good vehicule for B.J. and I to sing. Then, I saw a video of us doing it and I thought, "That's great," so we recorded it."
Palmer's career has been one of steady gain since he launched his solo career on Island Records in 1974. He has had seceral hits including Every Kinda People, Bad Case Of Loving You and You Are In My System.
It was Palmer's voice that combined with John Taylor and Andy Taylor from Duran Duran in Power Station - which had three huge hits in the summer of 1985. Palmer opted not to tour with Power Station but instead recorded Riptide.
His catalog of albums reflects his diversity. However, he doesn't indulge that interest just to have a different sound.
"I've some tapes and they would be considered weird but I wouldn't put them on a record. Nobody would play them. If a song doesn't communicate, what's the point? I want a song to say something to the audience, not just be weird to be weird."
Almost as much attention is paid to the way Palmer dresses as to his music. He has even appeared on the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly. His image has become linked with his suits. Doesn't that bother him?
He laughs, "No, I've learned to deal with it. I've such a broad range of music styles that it's hard to categorize or compare me to other people. So they hooked on the way I dress. I think I dress very conservatively."
He isn't daunted by being on the edge of "superstardom."
"The whole concept is bizarre. It's the cart before the horse. I don't want to be famous for being famous. If I'm famous for my music because people like it and buy it, that's fine. It's a side effect of your job."
He is currently working on a film based on songs that range from the 30s to the present. It's called Don't Explain, after a Billie Holiday song.
"It's a light comedy. The songs are the ones I've always wanted to record but knew that people wouldn't listen to."
Palmer sums up his music.
"My songs are evoking an atmosphere. I don't play the Blues or religious music or launch political campaigns with my songs. I want to make music that will make people move and has a melody that's interesting. It's that simple."
Mary Anne O'Callaghan - Associated Press (The Free Lance Star - Octobre 1988)