Robert Palmer passed away in 2003 at the shockingly young age of 54. A massively underrated artist who wrote and produced so many great songs, the fact that he died without much comment or celebration of his life was a crying shame.
Palmer was born in Yorkshire, but grew up in Malta before returning to the UK as a teenager. This early formative experience led to a peripatetic life which saw him embrace many different styles in his music – soul, rock, blues, reggae, calypso, soca. He started out as a rhythm & blues singer, most notably alongside Elkie Brooks in Vinegar Joe, but later forged a solo career for himself as a white soul boy, culminating in the terrific album ‘Double Fun’.
Bypassing punk, Palmer headed straight into new wave territory on his 1980 offering ‘Clues’, which contained two classic electronic tunes, ‘Looking For Clues’ and ‘Johnny And Mary’. When ‘Pride’ followed three years later, he went all-out electro, producing a record that easily stands as his most consistent, entertaining and absorbing piece of work.
Palmer had moved his family to the Bahamas in 1978 and the islands obviously worked their magic on ‘Pride’, which mixes electronica with Caribbean rhythms to create a sunny, light-hearted feel throughout. The opening title track namechecks Olivia Newton-John and is a bizarre anti-exercise rant with an equally bizarre video filmed in a squash court, but its calypso-flavoured hi-stylin’ rhythm is irresistible. The off-kilter reggae lilt of ‘Deadline’ makes for another infectious song, wrong-footing the listener with its tricky cadence.
The itchy catchiness continues with the Burundi percussion weight of ‘Want You More’ and the straight-ahead disco of ‘Dance For Me’. The hit single from the album, ‘You Are In My System’, is meanwhile a masterclass in drum programming that has, unlike most of the gated drum tracks of the mid 80s, aged pretty well. The only spot on the pristine production is a cheery, sorry, cheesy cover version of Kool & The Gang’s ‘You Can Have It’. Otherwise, the quality control is kept high, continuing with ‘Say You Will’ and ‘What You Waiting For’.
And then, out of the blue, ‘Pride’ closes with one of the weirdest and most wonderful songs you’ll ever hear – ‘The Silver Gun’, a five-minute Indian raga sung by Palmer in Urdu. The pulsating polyrhythm of this track is utterly beguiling. God knows what Palmer’s singing about, but hats off to him for taking such a huge risk and ending the album on a wonderfully eccentric note.
‘Pride’ did very little on the radio and nothing in the shops. Robert Palmer would go on to much bigger things shortly afterwards with his massive hit ‘Addicted To Love’ and his stint in the short-lived but highly successful supergroup The Power Station, before heading back to his roots with a period of recording ballads and blues songs. But for this listener at least, he had already hit his artistic peak with ‘Pride’. Not bad for a boy from Batley.