With his Take That past coming back to haunt him, tabloids sharpening their knives and missed appearances, clearly all is not well with Williams. And yet he has claimed that this is the first musical venture where he is being himself. The stakes are extremely high. Luckily, ‘Rudebox’ is the best thing he’s ever put his name to.
From a career of trying on different ill-fitting identities (CampPop Robbie, Fat Dancer Robbie, Swing Robbie, Stadium Robbie) he has finally found one that fits. Fucking about on laptops with the likes of Lily Allen and Pet Shop Boys, he has hit on a fun, frantic, pisstaking mixtape of crystalline ’80s electropop, Skinner derived rap-ups and lazy skank pop.
Lyrically, Williams has always been a very British mix of redcoat self-deprecation and zeitgeisty, chemically-enhanced moodiness, but on ‘Rudebox’ he continues this without falling into the previous pratfalls of whininess or navel-gazing. There’s the double-headed autobiography of ‘The 80s’ (currently at the centre of a legal dispute) and its follow-up ‘The 90s’, the clattering ‘Vogue’ rap in the LA tale ‘The Actor’ and ‘She’s Madonna’ – possibly his most bonkers song ever.
‘Rudebox’ is not ‘Robbie Williams the serious artiste’, but it is an amazing pop album. It remains to be seen if it will be his undoing with the mainstream and those tabloid hacks. But it seems, musically at least, he’s just getting started. And, if you leave your preconceptions at the door, you might just love it.