Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wheel Of Palmer (Early '80s Edition): Which Style Will It Land On?

Oh to be Robert Palmer in the early '80s - to be able to treat your singing career like a magician's card trick. Pick a style, any style!

As slapped-together albums that consist of three-fifths live versions of old songs and two-fifths studio versions of new songs go, Maybe It's Live has got to be near the summit. Seriously though, awkward contract-fulfiller it may have been, I have to admit that Palmer's live versions of his late '70s sleeper cuts are energetic, and one of the studio cuts is a version of the Persuaders' "Some Guys Have All The Luck" where Palmer changes the lyrics around and slightly re-writes the song a la his version of "Not A Second Time." A couple of years later, Rod Stewart had a bigger hit with a more faithful version, and this is the one most people know, so hearing Palmer's renegade version is sort of like hearing an early demo of an extremely famous song where the best parts aren't where you expect them to be and it's sort of annoying. I prefer Rod's version, and, judging by this priceless live clip, perhaps Palmer was partial to it as well:

Released in 1983, Pride strikes me as a slight re-tread of Clues ... but I liked Clues! The closest thing the album had to a hit was a cover of The System's "You Are In My System." For the video, I suppose Palmer decided to interpret "system" along the lines of "computer system," as opposed to ... digestive system? (Also, if you don't want girls zooming around your apartment on roller skates, you should just install carpeting.)

Then there's the album's title track, a sardonic lamentation of the decade's then-prevalent fitness trend, set to a reggae riddim:
You want her attention
Well you'll have to wait
She's in the gymnasium
Reducing weight
In shorts or a leotard
Despite her age
The girl's gonna exercise
Your life away

Sister don't you jog it all away
Sister don't you run it all off
Sister don't you jog it all away
Sister don't you rough it all up

What an idea of fun
To get it on the run
I don't know why you do
What has come over you?

The style in the discotheque
Is cheap and nice
Please tell Miss Fonda
To reduce her price
Anorexia, nervosa, mannequin
All this physicality
Will wear you thin

Hey Olivia Newton-John
What you say?
Hey Olivia Newton-John
What you say?

She used to yield like flesh
Now it's all muscle
She used to yield like flesh
Now it's all muscle

We used to ride tandem and have lots of fun
But bicycles for exercise are made for one

I guess the man preferred some flab. Side question: how the hell would he have known whether Olivia Newton-John's skin had stopped yielding or not? Did they have a secret fling or something? "Want You More" sounds like a robot that drank too much WD-40 the night before. There's also a random cover of Kool & The Gang's "You Can Have It (Take My Heart)." Seriously, out of all the gems in the Kool & The Gang catalog, he picked that one? What was the plan here, Bob? As AMG's Tim DiGravina writes, "Palmer stumbles somewhat as producer, too often offering up cheesy synth horns and failing to end songs in a satisfying way. Too many of the songs simply stop on a dime, and others fade out randomly, giving the impression they've been edited for the airwaves or that they're demos." Jeez. Get it together man. The album ends with "The Silver Gun," which is six minutes of Palmer chanting in Urdu. The man's gone Pakistani!

Imagine it's 1983, and you're Robert Palmer's agent. Your client has been kicking around the biz for ten years now, and his albums are selling less, not more. The guy can't figure out if he's Gary Numan or J.T. Taylor. Looks like you won't be able to afford that condo in Boca Raton after all. You believe in the dude's talent, but God damn it, this has got to be the end of the line.

Well have faith, exasperated agent, because your man's still got a few more tricks up his sleeve. Trick #1: fronting a techno-funk supergroup with the surprisingly amenable leftovers of Duran Duran.