The knowing irony of Robbie’s new album title has been somewhat deadened by his recent comeback performance on the X Factor – even if he might claim he was being postmodern, wink to camera. Whatever, three years on from the generally panned Rudebox, the question isn’t is Robbie’s new album any good but rather, is Robbie the pop star worth the effort anymore?
The issue with Robbie is that on CD he sounds sincere, but in person he often overacts and out-performs himself, taking away any sentiment and emotion that the song originally portrayed. His natural habitat is Let Me Entertain You and Rock DJ, which demand those qualities both on record and live. On record, his ballads are also his strength – until you see him nod and jerk his way through them live and you want to hurl your pint of warm cider at him. On the new album though, Robbie has succeeded in combining cool ballads with 80s electro and his trademark karaoke-bloke singalongs to make this, surprisingly, a kookily triumphant return.
The album kicks off with upcoming second single Morning Sun, all hazy sunlight and crisp vocals. Meanwhile, tawdry comeback track Bodies works its way out of the pack next, but close your ears and it’ll all be over soon. You Know Me sees a swaggering Robbie jauntily busking on the pavement, while Do You Mind has the boy from Tunstall come over all Mick Jagger to an 80s backing track, chewing his vowels noisily. Listen closely and you can hear the ghost of Wax building a bridge to your heart. Bowie’s Space Oddity also gets a nod on Deceptacon (which has the stellar first line ‘Microwave yourself today…’), while Somewhere sees Williams straying unwisely into musical theatre, which may just be the calling he was truly destined for. He could easily have been Ray Quinn in another life couldn’t he? Meanwhile, Starstruck brings to mind George Michael’s Fast Love and Last Days Of Disco channels the spirit of the Pet Shop Boys. What stands out throughout the whole ensemble though is producer Trevor Horn’s knack for knob-twiddling, introducing big band instruments to tracks and balancing Williams’ appeal beautifully.
This album is aimed squarely at the adult alternative section, which is exactly where Williams swims with ease. Unlike more modern alternatives though – such as James Morrison – Robbie offers up topics veering off the ain’t-love-a-bitch formula, bringing personality as ever to his wide variety of styles. This is a professional effort by the ultimate entertainer which totally delivers on record. Just steer clear of his live shows to avoid it being murdered before your very eyes.