For as long as CD reissues have been a thing, Robert Palmer's catalogue has been crying out for some real respect. The late blue-eyed soul singer, only 54 when a heart attack ended his life in 2003, has been in real need of rediscovery - and efforts to rebuild his discography for the modern age are few and far between. Next year, U.K. label Edsel will throw their hat in the ring (again) with a deluxe box set of his most famous work.
The Island Records Years is an in-depth look at the first decade-plus of Palmer's solo work for Chris Blackwell's legendary label cut between 1974 and 1985. In addition to all of Palmer's studio and live albums from that time, six of the nine discs boast a total of 25 non-LP bonus tracks, remixes, demos and more. (The set is billed as "newly mastered by Phil Kinrade at AIR Mastering using digital sources provided by the Universal archive"; in 2013, Edsel reissued these albums with these bonus tracks and were roundly criticized for the sound quality.) Full lyrics and credits will be included in the 12" x 12" box set, along with annotations by writer Daryl Easlea, all in a 28-page booklet.
The set constitutes one of the best bodies of work of their time in British pop history. Palmer, formerly the frontman of blues outfit Vinegar Joe, would craft a potent mix of just about every pop/rock subgenre, blending timeless original melodies with stalwart covers and thoughtful dalliances with the hottest production techniques of the moment. Debut Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley featured backing by Lowell George of Little Feat as well as New Orleans soul legends The Meters; only four years later did Palmer first gain a toehold on the pop charts with the U.S. Top 20 hit "Every Kinda People." As the '70s turned into the '80s, Palmer won over audiences with killer rock interpretations (Moon Martin's "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)," Todd Rundgren's "Can We Still Be Friends") before putting his own spin on the burgeoning New Wave sound with synth-driven killers like "Looking for Clues," "Johnny and Mary," "Some Guys Have All the Luck" (a Top 10 hit for Rod Stewart in 1984) and a cover of The System's "You Are in My System."
Astoundingly, Palmer's career only reached critical mass as his time with Island drew to a close. After being tapped to lead The Power Station, a one-off band featuring Andy and John Taylor of Duran Duran and CHIC drummer Tony Thompson, Palmer built off the success and sonics of that project (and Top 10 hits "Some Like It Hot" and a cover of T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On)"), recruiting Andy Taylor, Thompson and CHIC bassist Bernard Edwards for 1985's Riptide. The sleek sound of tracks like "Addicted to Love" and "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" were irresistible to pop radio, and a striking video for "Addicted" - featuring an as-always sharply-dressed Palmer backed by a bevy of androgynous female models - became one of the defining works of the era. The track became his first and only No. 1 hit.
A proper Palmer overview has been a long time coming - archivists at Hidden Masters had to scrap a proposed anthology some time ago - so hopes for The Island Records Years are high. We'll find out when the set is released February 17. Full track details and Amazon links are below.
The Island Records Years (Edsel EDSL0115 (U.K.), 2023) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
Disc 1: Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley (Island ILPS-9294, 1974)
- Sailin' Shoes
- Hey Julia
- Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley
- Get Outside
- How Much Fun
- From a Whisper to a Scream
- Through It All There's You
- Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley (Single Mix) (U.S. single A-side - Island IS006, 1974)
- Epidemic (U.S. single B-side - Island IS006, 1974)
- Blackmail (Alternate Take) (bonus track from Edsel EDSK 7037 (U.K.), 2013)
- Get Outside (Alternate Take) (bonus track from Edsel EDSK 7037 (U.K.), 2013)
Disc 2: Pressure Drop (Island ILPS-9372, 1975)
- Give Me An Inch
- Work to Make It Work
- Back in My Arms
- River Boat
- Pressure Drop
- Here with You Tonight
- Fine Time
- Which of Us is the Fool
- Willin' (Demo) (bonus track from Edsel EDSK 7037 (U.K.), 2013)
- Hope We Never Wake (Demo) (bonus track from Edsel EDSK 7037 (U.K.), 2013)
Disc 3: Some People Can Do What They Like (Island ILPS-9420, 1976)
- One Last Look
- Keep in Touch
- Man Smart, Woman Smarter
- Spanish Moon
- Have Mercy
- Gotta Get a Grip on You (Part II)
- What Can You Bring Me
- Hard Head
- Off the Bone
- Some People Can Do What They Like
Disc 4: Double Fun (Island ILPS-9478, 1978)
- Every Kinda People
- Best of Both Worlds
- Come Over
- Where Can It Go?
- Night People
- Love Can Run Faster
- You Overwhelm Me
- You Really Got Me
- You're Gonna Get What's Coming
Disc 5: Secrets (Island ILPS-9544, 1979)
- Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)
- Too Good to Be True
- Can We Still Be Friends?
- In Walks Love Again
- Mean Old World
- Love Stop
- Under Suspicion
- Woman You're Wonderful
- What's It Take?
- Remember to Remember
- Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor) (12" Mix) (single A-side - Island IS-438 (U.K.)/7-99139 (U.S.), 1989)
Disc 6: Clues (Island ILPS-9595, 1980)
- Looking for Clues
- Sulky Girl
- Johnny and Mary
- What Do You Care
- I Dream of Wires
- Woke Up Laughing
- Not a Second Time
- Found You Now
- Good Care of You (B-side to "Looking for Clues" - Island WIP-6651 (U.K.)/IS-49620 (U.S.), 1980)
- Johnny and Mary (Alternate Take) (bonus track on Edsel EDSK 7039 (U.K.), 2013)
- What Do You Care (Alternate Mix) (bonus track on Edsel EDSK 7039 (U.K.), 2013)
Disc 7: Maybe It's Live (Island ILPS-9665, 1982)
- Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley (Live)
- What's It Take? (Live)
- Best of Both Worlds (Live)
- Every Kinda People (Live)
- Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor) (Live)
- Some Guys Have All the Luck
- Style Kills
- Si Chatouillieux
- Maybe It's You
- What Do You Care (Live)
Disc 2: Pride (Island ILPS-9720 (U.K.)/90065 (U.S.), 1983)
- Want You More
- Dance for Me
- You Are in My System
- It's Not Difficult
- Say You Will
- You Can Have It (Take My Heart)
- What You Waiting For
- The Silver Gun
- You Are in My System (Addictions 12" Mix) (from "Addictions" Volume 2 - Island ILPTV 4 (U.K.)/314 510 345-2 (U.S.), 1992)
- Ain't It Funky (Si Chatouillieux - Extended Version) (bonus track from Edsel EDSK 7040 (U.K.), 2013)
- Pride (12" Mix) (U.K. 12" A-side - Island 12WIP-6833, 1982)
- Parade of the Obliterators (U.K. 12" A-side - Island 12WIP-6833, 1982)
- You Can Have It (12" Mix) (U.K. 12" A-side - Island 12IS-121, 1983)
- You Are in My System (Instrumental Mix) (bonus track from Edsel EDSK 7040 (U.K.), 2013)
- Deadline (12" Mix) (12" B-side to "You Are In My System" - Island 12IS-104 (U.K.)/0-96996 (U.S.), 1983)
Disc 9: Riptide (Island ILPS-9801 (U.K.)/90471 (U.S.), 1985)
- Addicted to Love
- Trick Bag
- Get It Through Your Heart
- I Didn't Mean to Turn You On
- Flesh Wound
- Discipline of Love
- Riptide (Reprise)
- Discipline of Love (12" Mix) (12" A-side - Island 12IS-242 (U.K.)/0-96840 (U.S.), 1985)
- Riptide Medley (U.S. 7" promo A-side - Island PR-980, 1985)
- Sweet Lies (12" Mix) (U.K. 12" A-side - Island 12 IS-352, 1988)
- Let's Fall in Love (U.S. B-side to "Addicted to Love" - Island 7-99570, 1985)
- I Didn't Mean to Turn You On (12" Mix) (U.K. 12" A-side - Island 12IS-283, 1985)
- No Not Much (Live on "The Tube") (U.K. 12" B-side to "Riptide" - Island 12IS-256, 1986)
- Trick Bag (Live on "The Tube") (U.K. 12" B-side to "Riptide" - Island 12IS-256, 1986)
- Les Planches (bonus track from Edsel EDSK 7040 (U.K.), 2013)
John Phillips says
Wow! No single mix of Addicted to Love?
Strange omission, isn't it? Well, at least the single mix has been issued on a few CDs, like the Rhino "Omigod" box and "VH1: I Love the 80s."
Let's just hope this set was not mastered from MP3-grade files like their earlier Robert Palmer releases were, with the hard cutoff at 16khz.
Great news! Fingers crossed on the sound quality.
This set is nothing more than a collection of 4 of the 2013 Edsel remasters. Same tracklisting and surely the same mastering and thus the same source. Don't expect a better quality, I'd say.
andrew edwards says
No Stefano according to another blog on CD reissues All new mastering done on these. Read about it if you want.
Hi Andrew, I know, but actually I don't believe it. More so if they say Edsel used the digital sources provided by the Universal archive in 2013.
We shall see... Let's hope for the best!
and your right to be wary, I'm afraid, Stefano. In "that other blog" a reader quoted a reply he got from the mastering engineer, saying !among other things) "some I know where high Res tape transfers what the rest came from is a different matter" and "I would rather have had tapes to work from, but I’m not sure they have that many". Not promising.
I hope there are some individual releases. But sound issues sound like a problem, I will wait to hear some reviews.
Rob M says
The excuse they used last time was that they used what they were provided from Universal…which happened to be upconverted mp3s, it turned out.
So…not feeling any comfort here. I need to see spectral proof.
Jimmy W says
I always feel that the Robert Palmer catalogue gets the thin end of the wedge and what a great shame that is.
I swerved those previous Edsel releases once word got out about the audio quality. I really hope this box is better on that front but I'm slightly pessimistic. I know that Hidden Masters were trying to do an expansive boxed set but that didn't work out.
Rob M says
I'm certain if Palmer's catalog were at Sony or Warners, we wouldn't have to worry about sourcing as much.
Universal - between the fire, the vagueness of what they call "original masters" since said fire, the whole interns-running-the-archive feel of their operation (sending upconverted mp3's out as "masters"?) - I just never feel comfortable about what I'm going to get as a consumer.
As I'd said above, spectral analysis proof (as well as sound samples) or no purchase from me.
I really like Robert Palmer, but will pass on this. I like the idea of each album having its own cardboard cover - not just a bunch of discs stuck inside a box.
And also, the US single edit of Addicted To Love is....where, exactly?
It should have been included with Riptide. It's only ever appeared on CD twice - and it was somewhat brickwalled on those discs, at that.
Michael Mainello says
I saw him in our little New Mexico college in 1979 / 1980, Only a couple of hundred people because he did not sell very many tickets. He gave a great show.
I just took a chance ordering this. When I hear remastered from digital sources I must say I’m sceptical also. I just don’t understand why the well received (for sound quality purposes) Japanese box set cannot be rereleased. Surely Universal own it.
Bruce Padgett says
I rolled the dice and ordered the set from Walmart. Should mastering be equally poor as the prior Edsel releases, back it goes thanks to the store’s liberal return policy. But I really hope I don’t need to do that, of course!