Robert Palmer Drive Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

He emotes, he urges and, above all, he convinces. It's about as far as you can get...

Chris Jones 2003

Robert Palmer must really regret ever making that video for ''Addicted To Love''. Forever burned into the public consciousness as the lounge lizard with the leggy backing band; few people seem to remember the time when, for blue-eyed soul, he was the great white hope and what a complex, erudite artist he really is. Unfortunately this eclecticism has kept the general public at arms length. Easy classification can't take into account his flirtations with electronica (Clues), reggae (Pressure Drop), calypso (Pride) and even proto-trance. No he's just Bobby the suit. Which is why Drive will both astound and impress...

For a man who's spent much of his career as a soul singer it seems odd that only now does he get around to tackling R 'n' B in its purest form. Yet, by his own admission, he has remained ignorant of much of the Delta blues and gritty early rock 'n' roll that makes up most of this collection. Maybe that's why it sounds so fresh. There's nothing like an excess of respect to kill some music stone dead (cf: Chris Rea's worthy but dull Charley Patton homage, Dancing Down The Stony Road, and just about all of Eric Clapton's recent output), but Palmer can never give us a straight rendition. Witness the splendid rendition of Willie Dixon's ''29 Ways'' with rattling drums and middle eight consisting of Ellington's ''Caravan'' or the Tom Waits-like evisceration of Lieber and Stoller's ''Hound Dog''.

People expecting the smooth crooning that's afflicted his recent crowd-pleasers will be frankly startled by the opening bars of ''Mama Talk To Your Daughter''. His voice hasn't sounded this invigorating since his early years when he was hanging around with the Meters and Little Feat. A wonderfully stripped-back production allows all of his great inflections and grunts to shine. On the aforementioned ''Hound Dog'' he screams fit to bust, while his version of Little Willie John's ''I Need Your Love So Bad'' puts paid to the notion that Peter Green's version was the ONE. He emotes, he urges and, above all, he convinces. It's about as far as you can get from dodgy UB40 collaborations.

Of course the idiosyncracy is never far away. The rollicking calypso of ''Stella'' and the skewed lament of Nicolai Dunger's ''Dr Zhivago's Train'' remind you of his unerring sense of a great song to cover. It's the latter that stands as one of Palmer's greatest achievements, with its spooked, odd meter and metaphorical loneliness. Yet, above all, it's the sense of fun and rejuvenation that makes Drive such a pleasure. Proof, at last, that Robert has much more than sartorial talents to offer the world.

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