“Drive” is unjustly forgotten record. It is an album by the great late Robert Palmer released in 2003. It his last album, he sadly passed away the same year. Nevertheless, “Drive” is a dark sheep in his discography. Unlike his signature carribbean-tinged blue-eyed soul of the 70s and tacky 80’s rocco-waka-waka-bossa-nova-from-hell-rock – “Drive” is barebones hard-edged no holds barred old-school blues album with nuclear levels of cool just because. A bit of a sharp departure from bland near-anonymous adult contemporary of the previous album.

The whole affair started in 2001 when he was invited to record Robert Johnson’s “Milk Cow’s Calf Blues” for a tribute album. This resulted in his participation in the making of the soundtrack for the movie “Yellow Bird”. These two events brought Palmer to the conclusion that it might be a good idea to do a blues album with zero p’s and triple f. Or he was assimilated by Thing – because he’s Palmer after all. Anyway – he was right. It’s refreshing to hear Robert Palmer outside of comforting overproduction getting down to bussiness.

Funny thing despite its throwback nature – the album got a slight Ween feel to it. It reminds “12 Golden Country Greats” in its tongue-in-cheek albeit rather authentic but extremely subversive approach. This is not usual blues album. Far from it. It’s Robert Palmer – master of disguise, style chameleon – version of “The Blues” coupled with inventive rhythm patterns, stripped vocals and no-bullshit guitars, (he even played some bass himself). That makes “Drive” odd but fun. It is positively insane album. It combines songs from various periods and styles – from classic blues tunes to modern rock-ish stuff – but does it in a natural way – no song feels out of place. While songs themselves are not that strange – their sequence is increasingly bizarre. The album jumps all over the place like a hyperactive squirrel-hedgehog who then stops to think whether not ge turned the gas off only to shrug it off because he’s a squirrel-hedgehog. Nevertheless, Robert Palmer does justice to every single cut and makes it seem effortless while adding some very curious diversions here and there all the way through.

“Mama Talk To Your Daughter” is relatively straight-forward stomper. Palmer rips and roars all the way through. He adds a bit of charming swing to the chorus with brass section fills ((brilliant stroke). The harmonica solo feels like a train that goes off-the-rails because he wants to turn you into the minced meat. Guitar solo is maddeningly repetitive one-note twang which feels just right for that particular moment.

“Why Get Up?” can’t be no different. It sounds stupid and inherently funny as if the band was joking on the listener. Robert Palmer relatively simple narrative but makes it sounds increasingly surreal with every verse. Every time he asks “Why Get Up?” you go “Really, why? Why bother doing that?”. And then comes mid-section where piano comes in and does a little ragtime thing. The last verse sound like it was performed on boat sailing over the river Styx.

This vibe continues on “Am I Wrong?” where Palmer does nice Luther Allison impression (just like The Thing, told’ya) over slow misplaced war drum beat while the rest of the music sounds like intense scheming of the wretched mind with two guitars rotating in different directions – hypnotizing and leaving for nothingness to sweep in.

“Lucky” is Palmer original and it feels more like Palmer’s stuff from the late 70’s with some shiny carribbean vibe and unusually rich instrumentation – there is lot going on in the song it’s like a circus rolling into town. Palmer is unusually tame on this song – he sings in relaxed manner, almost phones it in while the band does the most stilted cognitive dissonance performance. You feel weird after listening to it. And then comes “Stella” where Palmer does horrible carribbean accent for reasons unknown. I guess it was just because While the rest of the song is relatively traditional but somewhat rollick calypso – that accent makes it feel like Sting-trolling. It is impossible to take it seriously. It is kinda flimsy laffy-taffy.

“Dr Zhivago’s Train” is an example of “boom-chicka-boom” swelling with overabundance of arrangement. It makes an impression of whirling thoughts of a longing mind in lament skewed. But it is so serious and overdramatic you start to think there must be something wrong – some twist. But Palmer sings about the train coming with references Pasternak famously light on plot novel. And then train really comes in. And it fades out with police sirens.

“Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” is old-school rock’n’roll made of good old three-chords, four on the floor rhythm, walking bass and smooth crooning vocals going round and round and round. It is a song you think you’ve heard while being knocked out. Kinda like every other rock’n’roll but a little bit turned inside out. Piano solos while not sounding out of place got some displaced vibe to them – they feels like a song within a song.

“Hound Dog” throws away all those stupid things. It is barebones, stripped-down gut-bucket swamp stomp with a howling boom-boom. Guitar zigzags and then corners the listener with uneasy obviously mad smile just like a sling blade dancing near the neck for laughs. And then roars joy of the moment. Palmer is near hysterical throughout the song. He’s scared, he tries to fight back whatever it is. He feels like a disgruntled lover who slowly drowns in his jealous madness with more and more voices filling the space. It is the best song on the album.

“Crazy Cajun Cake Walk Band” tries to sound as if it was really done in the swamp. Except it sounds nothing like a swamp and more like really stripped down classic Aerosmith tune with some fun sound effects taped in. The more it goes the more it sounds like it is bumbling inside slowly moving centrifuge. Palmer does raunchy rowdy raucous thing here and his tongue is very much behind a cheek.

And then “Need Your Love So Bad” tries very different route. It is classic Palmer’ blue-eyed soul. Here he does his thing and nothing more. He emotes and urges, longs and goes. “It Hurts Me Too” is another example of Palmer perfectly blending traditional soul-blues with his manner. But this time there’s a slight disconnect with Palmer’s voice and backing music.

“29 Ways (to my baby’s door)” is a song about a creep written by Willie Dixon and Palmer performs it as a slapstick comedy. You can’t help but feel puzzled by the entire story. Think about it: “through the basement”“down the hall”“through a hole in the wall”“through the chimney like a Santa Claus”, then “crawl through the window”“through a hole in her bedroom floor”, also “got a way through her closet behind her clothes” and “A way through the attic that no one knows” and “A hidden door behind grandpa’s clock” – this man is trying way too hard. Musically it’s a bliss. Drums are jumping around doing “La-la-la”. And then it cuts to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” just because and you feel a really lost for a moment or so but then the song comes back and it is still same old madness. It sounds splendid though.

“Stupid Cupid” is very much like “Hound Dog”. Except it is about the man chasing someone while basiclly standing still and uttering grievances. It makes song to take place in two timelines. Music depicts his intense chase while the lyrics represent eventual rant.

“Milk Cow’s Calk Blues” is the song that started it all and here it suitably ends the album. Palmer does tasty and rather nasty sleazy slithery snarling throughout the song. It sums up the entire album. It sounds like a heavy rain falling with occassional strikes of thunder and lightning. The end is near and Palmer feels fine. It goes nowhere and that’s gotta be nice place.

“Drive” is a testament of Robert Palmer versatility and fearlessness. He never tried easy way in his career and always preferred something new and different even if it will not entirely work out. “Drive” is a nice showcase of his skills. He just throws himself in and then anything goes.


P.S.: Robert Palmer was in the band called Dada. They had an album titled Dada. It contained a song titled Dada. Song Dada from the album titled Dada by the band called Dada. Dada – Dada (Dada).

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.