Robert Palmer, the rock singer, insists on freedom of style and direction. But that insistence might keep him from producing a hit record.
If "blue-eyed soul" refers to silky, black-sounding music sung by whites, then Robert Palmer's credentials as a blue-eyed soul singer are as impeccable as the three-piece suits he wears on stage.
The 27-year-old singer grew up in England listening to records by black American rhythm and blues artists and Jamaicans who played the syncopated music called "ska."
His three albums for Island Records are a sensual combination of raspy-but-precise vocal funk and the session work of Motown players, New Orleans' Meters and Barry White's arranger, Gene Page.
A national tour now in progress and the moderate chrt success of his new album Some People Can Do What They Like are moving Palmer beyond cult acceptance. But he is still suffering from comparisons. Sans Fransisco's Boz Scaggs, it's said, has a smoother vocal delivery. Lowell George, the Little Feat guitarist and vocalist, whose songs and playing can be heard on Palmer's albums, has more raw power. Van Morrison's music is unapproachable.
So even though his press kit proclaims that "ol' blue eyes has arrived," Robert Palmer would just as soon drop the blue-eyed bit.
"I don't know what it means. Do you?" he said during an interview at his room in the Miyako Hotel here. "I can see that aspect in myself, but so what? It's easy to see what someone's communicating and, if you like it, to adopt their style. But if you do that, then what people will see in those themes. I need to avoid the pigeonhole, to make it understood that those aren't my themes, but simply side effects."
Palmer's voice is a relaxed mixture of the accents of his native Yorkshire and those of his current home, in Nassau. He seems always to be saving his energy for his music which, when it works, thrives on a tension between his singing and the efforts of his 10-member band.
Palmer's voice flows between singing lead vocals and serving as an instrument that counters the band's dominant rhythms. Consequently, as reggae-jazz-funk set that looks puzzling on paper is decidedly spirited on stage.
Palmer is dedicated to maintaining his freedom of style and direction and this puts him at odds with another axiom of the industry he'll never achieve wide popularity unless he establishes a definite groove capable of producing a hit single. Man Smart Woman Smarter, an upbeat calypso song from the new album, is as close as he has come.
"Love is the only thing I care to sing about. The more you understand about it, the more rejuvenating it is, and the more dangerous. It's precious stuff, and you've got to treat it right. I avoid the blues. I try to sing bravely about stuff. What I want to represent is something I can stand to represent night after night, not something that's a contrived effort."
AP (Charleston News & Courier - 1976)