Cherry Red 2016
Poet laureate of progressive rock looks back at an imaginary life to reflect the portents on his way to here and now, and to make debut as a solo artist.
“Sad to say the world we knew went down in flames”: this line from opener of Richard Palmer-James’ first album could be a coda to the “lifetimes spent on the streets of a city make us the people we are” aphorism which the lyricist made a part of KING CRIMSON philosophy, if it wasn’t a belated beginning of his individual discography. Mostly known as a poet for that band, Palmer-James also served as a guitarist in the original line-up of SUPERTRAMP but, living for many years in Germany, he didn’t really have a musical career, and the Englishman’s public endeavors were limited to a rare collaboration with John Wetton – until now. Richard’s debut record under his own name houses songs of experience, full of observational detail and delivered in a storyteller tone, with sadness pervading the space and time where a protagonist is often a stranger in search of emotional anchor, the titular takeaway.
Those expecting art-rock context from the veteran will be surprised, because he’s more tied to traditional genres and values, as “Guano Blues” and rockabilly of “A Very Bad Girl” suggest, and, like a sci-fi-themed transmission from the past, signaled by the album’s cover, there’s a retrofuturistic twang to many a piece. Yet while “Half Remembered Summer” has a romantic patina all over the tune’s illusory dancehall, one that Leonard Cohen would be glad to haunt, and the unhurried piano and accordion of “Baker’s Dozen” exude nostalgic warmth, “Chances Passing” harbors hope in its picturesque Americana, specters of the people the singer encountered en route rendering his dry delivery riveting. As a result, it’s hard to resist the pull of “Highway Code” despite the track’s almost static cinematography of aural sort, or the folk pulse behind “Doing Time” which may offer a prayer but social criticism is there as well, right under the surface.
Still, melancholy doesn’t rule the game on this album, and it’s a smile that’s the motor of “So We Meet Again” so even though the rendezvous seems to be situated in hell, the road leading there, quite possibly the aforementioned highway, is paved with excitement and is damp with expectancy. Watching Richard Palmer-James riding into the sunset, towards the devil-lit fire, is like seeing an old friend embark on an adventure… For ones who know how to get to the point, it’s never late to start.