He’s had a good run wouldn’t you agree.
His teenage years were spent as part of one of Britain’s biggest boybands. He stumbled away from the band prior to the first of his rather public celebrity burnouts only to return a year later with a solo album that saw him reinvented and reinvigorated. Since then he has left a somewhat indelible mark on popular music. His song Angels has become common fodder at weddings and funerals. His concert performances and tours have shown him as a consummate performer. He even squeezed in an album of standards and classics that was unanimously well received. Even splitting with his song writing partner Guy Chambers didn’t dent his performance and he continued to amble from strength to strength seemingly impervious to the bad form that has blighted his peers. Take That might have returned without him but there is something slightly sad about a bunch of thirty something blokes grasping for past glories.
So this brings us to his latest album Rudebox, its long been rumoured that he had an album of electronica based material in the works. Robbie does dance so to speak. The single has already been released, to something of a less than rapturous applause but as you know one ropey single does not an album make. So does the rest of the album live up to his previous bodies of work or does it stand on the same slightly wobbly ground of this album’s opening salvo.
Well, the promise of an electronic album is mostly there. Anyone expecting a violent swing in the direction of bleeps and beats or some bizarre breakbeat subgenre is going to be somewhat disappointed. The album owes more to the roots of synth pop than any heavyweight dance music genres. Think of bands like The Pet Shop Boys (who make a guest appearance) or The Human League (who are covered here) and you might have a better idea of what is going on. There are melodic hints of Kraftwerk and the whole thing is shored up on waves of bright and breezy synths that should give the remix merchants something to play with on the inevitable singles to come.
Unfortunately there is a real air of self indulgence about this as a body of work. Robbie often drops into the cod rapping he has dallied with in the past and while as an occasional bit of filler on an otherwise acceptable pop track he gets away with it here its presence is overworked. The fact of the matter is white guys still struggle with the rap genre (with obvious exceptions) and British white guys often fare even worse. Here Williams tries to go for a light hearted slightly comedic touch but it often falls flat in the most dismal fashion (Keep On being one particular example). A lot of the album seems to be centred around Robbie wearing the blackest aspects of his heart on his sleeve. He focuses on the more troublesome areas of his life, tracks like Good Doctor have him spilling his guts about his varied addictions but rather than casting any enlightement on his pains it just comes across as a list of medications he has been through (not big, not clever).
Elsewhere he gets all bitter and sets targets that he knows are going to be controversial (She’s Madonna) but the wit is somewhat dulled so any potential caustic humour is lost. Then once the anger is dissipated comes the self pity (The Actor). After the self pity an absence of strong material leads Robbie to tackle covers that should have been left well alone. His take on Louise by The Human League is nothing short of dire, never their strongest single this doesn’t add anything to the original and comes across as completely pointless. The same could be said of his version of Kiss Me (Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, remember?) with its doubtless ‘ironic’ Stock Aitken & Waterman arrangements. Tracks like We Are The Pet Shop Boys and Burslem Normals try and win the listener over by trying to be clever but sadly come across as B side filler at best. If there is anything of interest it could be one of the later tracks The 90’s that serves to illustrate Robbie’s side of the Take That story. The only trouble is we have all heard this all before and do we really need to hear it again.
Sadly as a whole this album is a serious drop in form, one of those releases where someone should have told Mr Williams where to draw the line and reign in the anger and the stories of his demons because after a while it all starts to sound a little tired. Production wise it sounds rushed, in places vocal melodies sound like they have been pushed on top of the arrangements and there are silences in the tracks that leave the listener hanging for the next verse, almost like listening to a demo of a song that is awaiting completion.
In fact if anything that sums up this album well enough. An incomplete idea that should have either had more time spent on it or alternatively been abandoned. One to avoid.