Williams, Robbie : Escapology

...determined to prove himself as human as the rest of us, but incapable of letting us forget he's a star...

In the olden days, Robbie Williams was in a band called Take That. But it was no fun! Robbie‘s entire life was what the internet generation would come to know as a colon and an opening bracket. So he hitched a lift on the Oasis tour bus, did a song that sounded like ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’, and that was that. Hooray for being free!

Four albums later (or five, if you insist on counting that big band farrago), Robbie‘s got another song which sounds like ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’. This time it’s called ‘Monsoon’ and its opening lines are [I]”I’ve sung some songs that were lame, I’ve slept with girls on the game”[/I]. Yes, we [I]have[/I] heard this all before. Truth is, Robbie‘s as trapped as he was in Take That, manacled – the irony! – by his own confessional bleating. This a parody of a Robbie Williams album: an ‘Angels’ ballad, a ‘Strong’ misery-fest, a ‘Karma Killer’ personal attack, a ‘Kids’ rocker whose clumsy lyrics make it impossible to identify whether this is satire or confessional self-awareness. The album finishes with a reprise of its opening track – Robbie‘s career in microcosm.

Like Eminem, Williams is desperate to give his own spin on tabloid coverage and determined to prove himself as human as the rest of us, but incapable of letting us forget he’s a star. Except Eminem is the voice of a generation while Robbie Williams is just the voice of Robbie Williams, and while Eminem has Dre, Robbie has a ramshackle posse of musicians roped in to create this album’s (wait for it) ‘spontaneous’ live sound. This presumably is For The Yanks, as are a couple of on-the-road tracks set Stateside – like ‘Hot Fudge’, which sounds a little like the songs that broke Elton John in America. But Robbie‘s not the Elton of this set-up. Guy Chambers is, or was, until Robbie sacked him. Big mistake, because Robbie‘s more like songwriting’s answer to David Furnish (Elton’s beau) and every time Chambers presents a decent tune – ‘Come Undone’, ‘Sexed Up’, the single ‘Feel’, there are plenty here – Robbie turns up with a trite couplet and wrecks everything.

[I]”You can’t argue with popularity,”[/I] Robbie grunts during ‘Handsome Man’. [I]”Well, you could, but you’d be wrong.”[/I] That’s no defence, let alone a thought that should even occur to a star writing their fourth album, but it certainly explains things.

Peter Robinson