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Reappraised: Robert Palmer

Do you own any greatest hits compilations? Maybe buried in your car’s snuff box you’ve got Queen's Greatest Hits II or Michael Jackson’s Number Ones, or even B*Witched’s Blame It On The Hits. You’re only human after all.

Greatest hits offer a listener the chance to reflect on an artist’s work.

From their first frenetic explosion onto the music scene to their later maybe more defined, sophisticated works or their clumsy stumblings into a genre that they really shouldn’t have. Like B*Witched’s later folktronica works.

With some artists you may never see any change. They might have struck gold with a loose, soulful jazz sound and then stuck with it for 30 years. Whatever gets bums on seats. Then you stumble upon Yorkshire-born Robert Palmer and his Addictions: Volume 1, and you marvel at just how many musical genres the guy experimented with.

If you have any impression of Palmer it’s probably of him in a suit, swaying side-to-side in front of a bevvy of scantily-clad women. Sort of like Benny Hill in Armani. His image is certainly dated but the music is impressively diverse and combines influences from all over the world. With this, his sartorial elegance and his permanently bronzed complexion, Robert Palmer is like the travel agent of pop. Picking up bits from here and there, popping them into his suitcase and then documenting his travels in his music.

Listening to his greatest hits is like listening to 15 other people’s one-hit wonders. He goes from soul to funk, pop to reggae, old time to blues. Heck, the guy has an album that combines bossa nova with rock’n’roll.

Some argue that this magpie approach is a form of appropriation, but I’ve always seen it as a way of introducing people to new sounds and genres that help build cultural bridges to different countries. It opens the door to musical exploration. A travel brochure to a world beyond The Beatles.

Some bands feel it’s a risk to turn the gain on their amps. So, it’s a testament to the brave and persistent vision of Palmer that he kept experimenting, even at the expense of his popularity. He released a tribute album to the tin pan alley era for example - that’s not so much resting on your laurels as throwing a pail of ice cold water in your own face for yawning.

I can’t imagine how you kept up if you were a fan at the time. “I really liked that last album of smooth soul grooves on Some People Can Do What They Like, can’t wait to hear his next one... wait, what’s going here, is that a steel pan?!”

It takes some talent to have a musical career that lasted so long while keeping people constantly on their toes. People laud David Bowie for constantly reinventing himself and his music, and while I’m not going to declare that Mr Palmer is on the same plinth, you could argue that his passport has more stamps on it in the search for the new sound vision. David just went to Berlin and New York, although he probably visited more planets.

Even so, if you do have ambitions to travel the world, I wouldn’t bother. Save yourself the ticket, turn the heating up, and stick on Addictions: Volume 1. It’ll be simply irresistible and you might find yourself addicted to Robert Palmer.

Stan’s top recommendations:

  • Johnny and Mary
  • Every Kinds People
  • Woke Up Laughing

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