Robert Palmer

Rhythm & Blues

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After stumbling through a Power Station reunion, Robert Palmer signed with Rhino's original music label, Pyramid, and delivered his first studio album in five years with Rhythm & Blues. Depending on your viewpoint, the title suggests the music of Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, or Maxwell. Any way you look at it, Rhythm & Blues doesn't sound like any kind of "rhythm & blues," no matter how "soulful" Palmer sings. This is slick adult contemporary pop, with slight urban soul flourishes, yet those have all been smoothed out, so the end result sounds somewhat homogenous. The most frustrating thing is that Palmer is not only capable of better music than this -- he has made albums in this style that were considerably more successful. Palmer still has vocal chops and he sounds terrific throughout the album, but the production is so clean and careful (and disarmingly synthesized, sounding for all the world like it was recorded in the late '80s) that almost none of the songs catch hold. The one that does is the closer, Lowell George's "Twenty Million Things," which has a stripped-down arrangement at odds with the rest of the album. It's simple, direct and provides a great showcase for Palmer -- and it illustrates that he can still be very effective when given the right tunes and proper production.

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