With his new record album, suave British rocker Robert Palmer appears to be taking something of a gamble at a rather delicate point in his career. But that's just one opinion. Robert Palmer has a different view.
Palmer has been on the verge of stardom since the release of his first solo album, Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley, four years ago. During a series of showcase club appearances to promote the album, it was immediately clear that Palmer saw himself as a new breed of rock 'n' roller.
There were none of the classic affectations, the rock-star heroics. Palmer was different. His clean-cut, well-groomed good looks were set off nicely by his tastefully casual attire - usually a conservative suit and open necked shirt - as he shunned the standard jeans and tank-top ensemble favored by most rockers.
But Palmer quickly made it clear that he knew what to do with a rock 'n' roll song. And the critics, for the most part, raved.
Public acceptance was relatively slow, though. The goods albums kept coming from Palmer: Pressure Drop, Some People Can Do What They Like, Double Fun. The reviewers continued to sing Palmer's praises, but the masses would not be moved to the record racks.
Then last year, Palmer finally hit the jackpot with a hit single, Bad Case Of Loving You, and an album, Secrets. If there are those who feel that the pattern for future Palmer recordings was cut with that song, Palmer's new album, Clues (Island Records), will come as a jolt with its strong emphasis on a heavily synthesized techno-rock approach.
"What about Sulky Girl?" Palmer retorted to this suggestion during an interview. "Is that techno-rock?"
Well, no. Sulky Girl is a romping rocker and a sure bet for release as a single in the near future. Nevertheless, the synthesizer layers abound. And on a couple of numbers they dominate eerily. This is especially so on I Dream Of Wires, written by Gary Numan, who also played synthesizer for the recording, and Found You Now, which Palmer wrote with Numan.
"I don't consider the album a risk," Palmer says. "On the contrary, I think it would be a risk if I tried to do what I had done before."
Palmer feels that he has reached that stage in his career where he is comfortable enough to experiment. While he has not yet attained the peak of popularity that critics predicted for him a few years ago, he definitely has his following.
"My audiences are much less prejudiced now than they were at one time," he notes. "They don't come expecting just one thing from me. I've recorded six albums now, and I think things have been steadily building."
There is, of course, always the danger of being shot down critically when something new is attempted. "If I were to come out with an album of all-reggae material - and I've been doing reggae songs off and on for several years - people would say that I was trying to capitalize on the craze. I can't win in that respect. I've just touched so many bases."
Palmer points out that Clues took root when he returned from touring and began experimenting with ideas for the album. "I decided I wanted to do it a lot more simply than I had in the past," he says. "I wanted to record it in a personal way, using basically me, drums and keyboards."
For his current tour, Palmer feels that his stage show has "finally caught up" with his recordings. "In the past, the stage show always seemed to be a little behind the records," he says.
The Palmer touring band includes bass, drums, guitar and keyboards. "The keyboards includes some fancy synthesizers that are set for 40 different programs," he says. "This way we can feature steel drums, strings and such. It's much more satisfying."
Palmer was especially gratified during the start of his tour, when he was opening for Heart. "That was a gas," he says. "We played halls seating 15,000 to 20,000, facing people who couldn't care less if we were there or not. But their response was quite enthusiastic."
The masses might catch up with Robert Palmer yet - techno-rock or not.
Jack Lloyd (The Evening Independant - Octobre 1980)