Robbie Williams Celebrates A Birthday


I really didn’t think Robbie Williams had it in him. After Take That, he didn’t seem to be ready to make another assault on the charts.

I heard his version of George Michael’s ‘Freedom’ and enjoyed it, but it was a bit of a simulacrum. And then I heard a new tune, ‘Old Before I Die’ and I mouthed ‘meh’, it sounded like the yob end of Brit Pop and I wasn’t bothered.

And so I didn’t listen to ‘Life Thru A Lens’. Some taunted Robbie, asking where his good songs were.

And then ‘Angels’ came out. I didn’t think it was as great as some thought, but I understood how well constructed it was, that Robbie Williams/Guy Chambers partnership bearing early fruit – I also enjoyed karaoke cavorters trying to reach that huge note.

It was the beginning of the Robbie Williams phenomenon and yet I still have never heard the album.

Until this 25th anniversary. Yes, 25 years…bolstered re-release. Now, I love Robbie Williams’ solo work, I’m the one who even likes ‘Rudebox’, so how this passed me by I do not know. So glad to make its acquaintance.

Robbie Williams

Credit; Robbie Williams Website

The Album

I had a belief. That was that ‘Let Me Entertain You’, self-regard on legs, the best ‘roll up, roll up’ of recent years, was on a different Robbie Williams album. And I listened to those albums regularly; yep, that ridiculous.

As well as that grab of the lapels, there’s ‘Lazy Days’ which sums up so much of Robbie’s appeal – its eminently, never asks anything of you but has a little bit of the bare faced cheek of the Small Faces – that line about just because he’s not double barrelled doesn’t mean he hasn’t travelled well means so much.

And talking of Stevie Marriott’s urchins, ‘Clean’ isn’t particularly, all Singsong styli and stabs of riffs; of course, that Union Jack ahoy feel was all over this album.

At the time; people were surprised that he dumped the pop for Brit Pop, but he hadn’t really, the clue is in that word after Brit; the ethos of the lad’s mag, eyebrow nick and jack the lad suited him, that he had a soft side, a sad and lonely side, didn’t hurt at all either. And that Pop, so apparent in the horns, faux Ska and percussion section of ‘Ego Agogo’; Pop with a natural effervescence.

This album is fabulous. And this was him preparing to get better. As the BBC put it;

‘No single from Life Thru a Lens topped the singles chart in the UK, but the album certainly trumped all comers in its category, buoyed by both the celebrity status of its (co) maker and the catchy nature of whistle-along tunes…’

There Must Be Extras If This Is A Re-release

Oh, there are. Discs full. And they have a really unvarnished, here it is warts and all feel which is part of the appeal of the man.

What works? The full length version of his ‘Freedom’ allows us to see squelchy guitars and thrusting ‘Teenage Millionaire’, surging harmonies in ‘She Makes Me High’, plus an attempt at Suede on ‘Cheap Love Song’.

The covers, Bowie’s ‘Kooks’ and ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ (the latter taking out a reference to British Steel – sad) and although the title of ‘I Am The (Res) Erection’ might make us roll our eyes, the Paul Weller stylings are most welcome.

What Doesn’t Work? The ‘Full Monty’ Medley with Tom Jones, ‘Come Up And See Me’ is too low for Robbie and he has then sing the chorus up the octave, a needlessly more brittle demo of ‘Lazy Days’, a basic Brit Pop all mouth and trousers ‘Average’ and a ‘couldn’t resist’ poem of ‘I’m here, where are you?’ to a former teacher.

The Live Bit From 1998

It’s fabulous, matey, brilliantly played, with a clubland ‘Let Me Entertain You’, an almost U2 ‘South Of The Border’, horns and organ swelling ‘Killing Me’ and a headlong rush of the title track which just stays on the tracks through talent.

The boy from Stoke comes to London and conquers.

The Beginning Of The Williams Era

He couldn’t do wrong until 2005 when ‘Intensive Care’ made people just peep behind the corner a bit. It all came together for Mr Robert Williams in those years; who could say he didn’t deserve it?

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