The demos Palmer makes are very comprehensive. Everything he wants on his record is musically intact before a single session is booked.
"To a certain extent, the album Pride is all me. I brought on the other players to articulate the parts, a drummer, for instance, and threw away the machine. There were various bits and pieces I wanted some experts to articulate. I'm much happier in a situation like I created for the album Riptide. I made the album Riptide myself, then brought in the players and learned it like we were going to do a gig, then we went and performed it and recorded it, taking it back round again."
Pride was self-produced, as was Palmer's previous release, the half live/half studio Maybe It's Live.
"There's something extremely satisfying," he says, "about doing it yourself, and getting the results that you really enjoy. The drawback is that it tends to be a bit of an academic satisfaction."
To prevent the album from sounding more like it was created than performed, Palmer asked former Chic player and Power Station producer Bernard Edwards to take the helm on Riptide.
"I had to be on the floor with the band," he states, "so it would be a real performance. I needed someone on the other side of the glass to control that performance and be objective, somebody who draws out a performance, rather than an engineer, button pusher, producer, which most of them are. Bernard focused things."
Riptide has a live-in-the-studio feel, and for good reason — he rehearsed the band for two weeks until they knew the material cold, and then they plugged in and played the set.
"By the time the light came on," Palmer laughs, "it was like 'Whoopie! Let's play!'"
Despite this alleged simplicity, a careful check of the liner notes to Riptide reveals that it was recorded in no less than half a dozen separate studios.
"What happened there," Palmer explains, "was when the bulk of the parts, including my vocals, were finished, rather than watch over their shoulders while they mixed it, I went off to Italy on holiday. When I got back six weeks later, nothing had been done which was puzzling. At that point, I called up E.T. Thorngren and we grabbed the tapes. I had to redo one of the vocals, then we took the list of parts and mixed it. We were just stealing nights here and there in whichever studio we could get. It was done Sony digital, and we worked close monitor, so it really didn't matter which room we were in. We just carried the machine and the tapes with us. As long as it had an SSL board, we were happy."
And now, with Addicted To Love and I Didn't Mean To Turn You On having made their mark on the singles charts, he is bound to be happier still. He has taken Riptide on the road, in a show that will feature the 14-piece Kit McClure Big Band in several venues.
"It's really a bitch of a thing to do," admits Palmer, "but that doesn't put me off the attempt. We didn't record the big band because it came close to being Linda Ronstadt."
Among his current influences, Palmer cites acts with a decidedly hard Rock flavour like Husker Du, Q5, Accept and The Scorpions. Inspired by these bands, the prevailing winds, and guitarist Eddie Martinez, the next musical direction Palmer is going to take is an album of Heavy Metal.
"We're going more and more in that direction," Palmer claims. "I don't really know why. It just feels good. I mean I'm not about to start singing tunelessly and with no melody, but I like the fidelity. I'm doing my next album with Dieter Dierks, the German Heavy Metal producer (Scorpions, Dokken). It's going to be called Heavy Nova because half of it is going to be Heavy Metal, the other half is going to be Bossa Nova."
If this constant shifting of styles is disconcerting, there is a consistent thread that ties all of Robert Palmer's music together.
"Syncopation in the bottom end of the rhythm," is how he describes the underlying principle of everything he does. "I get a direct relationship between the bass drum and the melody line. The rest of it is all decoration and atmosphere. Hyperactive on the Riptide album, is really interesting, because it's ensemble playing. The melody line against the bottom end is very syncopated, very sophisticated, but it sounds very straightforward. I had lots of trouble with the song Trick Bag, because it was in a hole, in a time warp. I suddenly discovered that if I reversed the beat, the vocal had an anchor. When I play live, that's all I have in my monitor — the bass drum."
Being in demand has allowed Palmer to pick his projects. The next thing he's up to is producing an album by the Comsat Angels, one of the few English bands today that Palmer finds worth the effort.
"Generally," he says, "I find the stuff so... provincial... unhygienic... unhealthy. It seems to be fuelled from the wrong end. The whole thing over here seems to be some sort of fashion competition, and the business is backwards as well. Music isn't regarded as a valid art form in England at all. It's a bit circusy. There's no discipline about it. Instead of getting serious about it, they get solemn."
But the thing Palmer is most looking forward to right now, is moving his home and family from their current base in the Bahamas to a lakeside chateau in Switzerland. His current success has made this difficult, and he's put it off until after he finishes touring. In that way, how Robert Palmer sees his music describes the way he lives: "The hardest things to do," he says, "are the simplest."
International Musician & Recording World - Oct. 1986