Veteran Vocalist Soloing Again
Riptide is veteran vocalist Robert Palmer's 10th solo album. But despite this prodigious output, Palmer is probably best known for his brief fling as the voice of the platinum Power Station project. Despite a career that has kept the 36-year-old Englishman afloat since the age of 15, Palmer's association with two members of Duran Duran seems to have been his biggest personal promotion.
"I'm not complaining," says Palmer, "but I find the significance attached to Power Station completely inappropriate. I worked in the past with Little Feat, the Meters, the Motown rhythm section, I mean, hot stuff, and it didn't make a dent. All we were doing with Power Station," he expands, "was fooling around. And I'm sure that's a lot of the reason for its appeal: It sounds like a throwaway. But it became something else, and that upsets me."
Considering the publicity that Palmer recieved through Power Station, many observers were surprised when he declined to tour with the group this past summer. The band announced that Michael Des Barres would replace Palmer, who had stayed behind to finish Riptide. That, however, isn't the way Palmer tells the story.
"I wasn't invited on the tour," he says simply. "I got a phone call saying, 'Look, we're going to find another singer and we're going out on the road.' So I said, 'Okay'."
Why has Palmer kept quiet while pundits speculate as to his motives for refusing the sold-out arena tour? "Because if you can't think of anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," the singer says. "I'm in a position where I can't tell the truth about what went down. It wouldn't do anybody any good, and it's not interesting anyway."
Whatever the facts, Palmer's non-appearance on the Power Station tour may have done his career as much good as his appearance would have. Debate over the reasons for his not going gave the vocalist a higher profile than decades on the boards. Now, people think of him as an eccentric recluse, even though he has toured the U.S. as recently as 1983 and - currently signed to Frontier Booking International - plans to tour again in the spring.
"I never think of those things," says Palmer of promotion, publicity and profile. "I never thought about audience. If you think about audience, you're not making music; you're making product. For someone to call himself a musician and to sit and consider things like demographics is, to me, vulgar. Music is magic, instinct."
In spite of his attitude, Palmer's career has stayed on track, largely thanks to managers Chris Blackwell (who also runs Island Records) and Dave Harper. Palmer is a top draw in Italy and France, has had top 20 success in America dating back to 1978 (with Every Kinda People) and maintains a loyal core following.
"I don't want to be avant-garde and inaccessible," he says. "My biggest problem is timing. An album I made five years ago, Clues, is now considered mainstream, although when it was released over here, it didn't do a thing. I remember playing reggae music in Phoenix eight years ago, and being booed off the stage. It's all the rage now."
Poor reception in Phoenix, however, has never detracted from acceptance in Paris. It is mainly international acceptance - due, says Palmer, to less restrictive radio playlists - that has kept him alive in the ledger sheet.
"The record I just mentioned, Clues, was a hit throughout Europe," he notes. "So, if it's not happening here, it's happening somewhere."
Ethlie Ann Ware (Billboard - Novembre 1985)