Friday, 13 June 2008

ROBERT PALMER: I Dream Of Wires


He was always more convincing when he was quiet. The role of the seventies seniors in the rise of New Pop should not be underestimated; Marianne Faithfull, Sparks, Grace Jones - those survivors from the old (i.e. pre-punk) ways who largely and wisely sat actual punk out, took stock, kept watching, dropped a line to Barry Reynolds, or Sly and Robbie, and then, when they knew the times were right, came back and suddenly found themselves at or near the front.

And Palmer was maybe the most obviously enthusiastic of them, and still, I think, the most underrated. The Vinegar Joe bluesy burp never really left him, of course - "Addicted To Love," his biggest and most overrated hit, is little more than pub rock with unsightly Fairlight and Linn daubs - but still I preferred the hunched whisperer in the corner of the hot garden of "Johnny And Mary," which always threatens to lurch into something shocking (the wavering bass volume) but never quite does; the jittery Docklands Light Railway (Neptune to Nassau line) of "Looking For Clues," the splendidly amber autumnal comforts of "She Makes My Day," the proudly cowering dread of his take on Jam and Lewis' "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On," the babbling nonsense and Russell Mael impersonations of "Some Guys Have All The Luck." And he was keen not to appear left behind or caught out; hence his fortissimo bellow finds its ideal home in his quickfire cover of the System's "You Are In My System," the version which hit in the UK at the expense of the original (but since David Frank was producing and playing keyboards on Palmer's version, I expect he didn't mind too much - those "hyuk hyuks" and atonal tolls of indrawing DX7s!).

With "I Dream Of Wires," though, he took on Numan (with the help of Numan as producer and keyboardist and most of Numan's band as back-up) and played the part of this particular "Electrician" to cold perfection. With its peopleless ticks and non-resonating drones, Palmer is walking in the world after the revolution, when steel has melted into fire and finally emptiness - "I am the final silence/The last electrician alive," he sings to the skeletal forest (Vera Lynn singing Tom Paxton again?) the morning after the future has ended. He reminisces with all the desuetude of a 25th century Max Bygraves singing "Fings Ain't Wot They Used To Be" about opening doors by thinking, sleeping by pressing "go" and driving to work "by backseat" - Palmer's voice is still stalwart and proud but the stable rim is already beginning to splinter: "So I press C for Comfort/I dream of wires - the old days" as the music filters those familiar Numan underpasses of Hammersmith, or is it East Berlin, echoes (come out of Hammersmith tube station via the Fulham Palace Road exit, glance back behind you and tell me that's not East Berlin), its "new days" now past their explode-by date. He didn't mean to turn it on.