What a sophisticate Robert Palmer is. On his new album, Don’t Explain, he does a Billie Holiday number, a show tune, and some cabaret-style jazz. He even overdubs his voice into a full m’baqanga choir, hoping you’ll mistake him for Ladysmith Black Mambazo. No matter that his voice has little affinity for any of these styles. The important point is to convince the public that the impeccably dressed Palmer is a class act in more than just his choice of suits.
Then again, the singer isn’t about to abandon his forte of mainstream, blues-derived rock just yet. Hedging its bets, Don’t Explain boasts no fewer than 18 songs — more than an hour of material — offering enough straight-on rockers to ensure radio play, and enough arty stuff to make Palmer look as if he’s above all that. In between, there are some modest covers (of Marvin Gaye and Dylan) that exercise Palmer’s pop-soul voice with gusto. But the album’s supposed sure thing — its rockers — clunk even harder than its stylistic leaps. Besides a marked lack of hooks, these numbers are cluttered with squealing metal guitars, kazoo-like horns, and more vocal overdubs than the famously ornate British group Queen (who were kidding). Compared to this stuff, those model mannequins from Robert Palmer’s videos seem to be brimming with life. C-