Hot Hooks and Great Looks Add Up to No. 1 (finally) for Suave Crooner Robert Palmer
06/09/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT
There's just an hour left before Robert Palmer is due at a late afternoon sound check for this evening's sold-out concert. Across the room in his hotel suite, a slowly deflating bouquet of congratulatory helium balloons drifts toward the floor. In contrast, the singer's spirits are bright and buoyant. After 12 years of trying, Palmer, 37, has his first chart-topper with a darkly hypnotic paean, Addicted to Love. When a road manager tells him it's time to get a move on, Palmer, still in his bathrobe, responds to the alarm by uncorking a bottle of French Burgundy and lighting a Dunhill. "I'm not somebody who started in a garage six months ago and MTV put me up there," he says, savoring le vin and la vie. "This much more delicious. It almost feels like I'm getting away with something. It's all fallen into place perfectly, a nice accident."
Palmer's recent record-chart triumph, which pushed Prince's Kiss from the top of the pops, comes after eight well-crafted, critically celebrated but commercially lackluster solo albums. Palmer was still laboring in relative obscurity a year and a half ago when he got a call from two fellow Brits, John Taylor and Andy Taylor, then moonlighting from Duran Duran. They asked him to help write tunes for their ad hoc supergroup, Power Station. With Palmer joining as lead vocalist, the band placed two songs in the Top 10 and sold more records than any of his own previous efforts.
The success proved a pleasant surprise to Palmer, but he nixed the Duranies' request that he continue with them as a touring unit. Instead, he released his own album, Riptide. Propelled by Addicted to Love, the LP, with more than 800,000 copies sold, is likely to become Palmer's first million seller. Now that he's arrived, Palmer is touring the U.S. and the Far East with a four-man four-woman band and a 15-piece, ail-female orchestra. Sorry, guys—the personnel doesn't include the stunninq mannequins who perform in his Addicted video.
Palmer's romantic stage style makes him a contemporary cousin to the crooners of the '30s and '40s. "I certainly don't see myself in an Emily Bronte role," he scoffs, "but I do sing love songs for a living. If that's romantic, then I am."
Oh, don't be so modest, Bob—not with those GQ looks, those closets full of designer suits (he shops in Italy every three months) and that paradise house in the Bahamas. Palmer has lived in Nassau since 1976 with Sue, his artist wife of 16 years. When the two met on a London bus, says Palmer, "It was like being struck by lightning. There was no doubt about it. And there still isn't." Caribbean life, he concedes, is indeed romantic. "We didn't have children before we moved there," he laughs, referring to James, 8, and Jane, 6. A typical day in his life: "I get up about midday, go sit on the seawall, watch the horizon and the boats while I eat my grapefruit."
The son of a housewife and a wireless operator in Britain's Royal Navy, Palmer spent much of his childhood in such exotic Mediterranean locales as Malta, Naples and Cyprus. "That's home for me, like roots," he says.
Claiming Lena Home, Nat King Cole and American R&B as his early musical influences, Palmer says, "Hearing soul music for the first time was a revelation." Suitably inspired and back in Britain, Palmer joined his first band at 15 and spent the next decade "gypsying around, depending on where the work was." He landed a solo contract in 1974 and enjoyed minor success with such singles as Every Kinda People and Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor). While his smooth, rhythm-based sound can be heard in those earlier recordings, Palmer seems to have learned something about the power of pure pop from his Duran Duran collaborators. Palmer turned to Power Station producer Bernie Edwards for help with Riptide, and Andy Taylor says Palmer's "music was an influence on us before Power Station. But then I think we influenced him after he worked with us."
Palmer does concede that "maybe I wasn't doing it right. I guess my stuff wasn't communicating properly or wasn't broad enough. I like songs to evoke overtly sentimental feelings, and I'm trying more and more to do that."
There was never any doubt about Addicted to Love's evocative power. A genuine eye-opener, the song came to Palmer in his sleep. "It woke me up," he says. "I just dreamed the tune. I woke up and hummed it into my tape recorder. A lot of times when that happens, it's just nonsense. But in the morning I listened to it and I knew I'd caught one."