It’s not surprising that this stylish rock dilettante — whose ’70s dabblings included excursions into R&B, funk, reggae and Little Feat-backed rock’n’roll — should catch up with post-punk in the ’80s. What is remarkable is that on Clues he manages to come up with two tracks as sublime as “Johnny and Mary” and “Looking for Clues,” which are heady, intricate and danceable at the same time. Also commendable is the job he does on a couple of collaborations with Gary Numan, injecting more life into them than one would think possible. Still, Clues retains an irritating stylistic disparity (heavy metal track/Beatles cover), as if Palmer were afraid his going wholeheartedly into anything new might alienate his audience.
Two years on, Palmer’s dilemma is even more apparent on Maybe It’s Live, a sidestep tentative down to its title and half-live/half-studio format. Combining inferior concert versions of old material, blah new stuff and another collaboration with Numan, the LP continues Palmer’s indecisive course.
Without any big-name collaborators, Palmer again delivers a weirdly mixed bag on Pride, venturing into electro-disco with the herky-jerky, overbearing “You Are in My System,” while affecting a charming calypso flavor in other spots. There’s also a reprise of the unsettling undercurrents of “Johnny and Mary” on “Want You More.” Palmer’s voice is such that the less he tries, the better he sounds: when the going gets hot, his singing becomes overwhelming and irritating.
Palmer’s next move was into the vile but hit-bound Power Station, a temporary all-star band with two Durannies, produced by Bernard Edwards. When the group opted to tour, however, Palmer bailed out, retaining Edwards and Tony Thompson from the brief collaboration to finish Riptide, a bombastic funk record with such tripe as “Addicted to Love,” a song whose main value lies in its parody potential.
Can an album get any more eclectic than Heavy Nova? From the trashy (and awful) pop hit “Simply Irresistible” to the reggae-cajun fusion of “Change His Ways” (a bizarre song that, amazingly, works), the Peggy Lee ballad “It Could Happen to You,” Brazilian, African, funk, metal…every record ever recorded all on one disc! It’s nice to see that Palmer is so open-minded, but if an LP is meant to suit or promote a particular mood, this one’s just too hectic.
Compared to Heavy Nova, the “Addictions” Volume I best-of plays like a concept album. (In his excellent sleeve notes Palmer mentions the care he took in programming it.) There are only three pre-1980 cuts here and none from before ’78. As an overview of post-punk Palmer (through Heavy Nova), it’s all there — the good and the bad.
More strange fusions abound on Don’t Explain. Palmer rocks hard (with guitarists Steve Stevens and Eddie “Rock Box” Martinez) on one number; sings pop on the next; then soca, a cappella, etc. No doubt pleased by “It Could Happen to You” and the other softer moments on Heavy Nova, he devotes the last seven songs of this double-album-length disc to string-laden torch songs of the type Billy Holiday sang late in her life (though only the title track is actually hers), a couple of Brazilian- influenced pieces and a rollicking Mose Allison cover. When he covers Mose, he sounds like Mose; when he covers Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye elsewhere on this LP, he takes on their inflections. Whatever the setting, Palmer plops down and makes himself comfortable.
Palmer died suddenly of a heart attack on September 26, 2003.