Robbie Williams - Rudebox

2006-11-29 11:41
The first single and album title track "Rudebox" has left fans in no doubt that Robbie Williams is doing something new - new to Robbie, at least. In fact, the hit doesn't sound like Robbie Williams at all on first listen (more like a commercial radio release from Waddy "Max Normal" Jones.) A rich list of collaborators also indicates a canny awareness that he knows he needs the help of those who've been there before him.

Backing vocalists like the fresh and recognisable Lily Allen, who also dabbles in the casual rap style that dominates "Rudebox", songwriting from Mano Chao and others, and solid backing add depth to the sound of Robbie exploring his nostalgia through rap, country, world and whatever he can get his sticky pop paws on.

And nostalgia is the strongest, most fun element of this album. Even the cover, with its webbed effect photo recalls 80's Warhol-influenced designs and bad TV resolutions, hinting at music inside made from memory. "Viva Life on Mars" is a folksy chant with lyrics so simple they're not even printed in the liner notes. "Lovelight" (one of the few numbers not written by Robbie) is a shiftyfooted blend of Prince-like vocals and Donald Faganesque edgey keychanges. "Bongo Bong" - a cutely tongue in cheek story about the rise and fall of stardom sounds like a 100% sure dancefloor hit in Paris. Lily Allen's dry teen backing vocals, contrast with the snappy beats and fluid Mano Chao melodic riff brilliance. This is a a track that, perhaps irritatingly, will stay with you.

"She's Madonna", an anthemic, heartsore homage to the star, ensures that whomever else Robbie doesn't reach this time round, he's sure got the gay market sewn up. If you think it sounds an awful lot like the Pet Shop Boys, don't worry, he follows up with a teasing and touching song called "We're the Pet Shop Boys" later in the tracklisting.

"Keep On" and "Good Doctor" are depressing but brilliantly heady pop portraits of someone spinning off the rails on drugs, sex and ego. The synths get hauled out in full force for "The Actor", which recalls some of Malcolm McClaren's more radio-friendly stunts (the one about brassieres in particular). It seems to be a portrait of the hollowness of those who play themselves playing others for a living.

Rudebox is, however, not a perfect album. It slumps in the centre. Listening to it is a bit like undressing the perfect boy only to discover that he was hiding a concave chest by wearing big shoulderpads in his jacket. Luckily things pick up further down after the less than lovely "Never Touch that Switch", the utterly failed old lovers meet story "Louise". "We're the Pet Shop Boys" saves the day, the Twin-Peaksish "Burslem Normals" might fire off a few memories, and the amusingly stupid but skippable "Kiss Me" almost works.

The biggest highlight, though, is right at the end of the album. "The '80s" tells the story of a British boy growing up "Me so horny, me so young / and I still get my washing done" about the way he hid his smoking from his mum with mints, how his BMX was stolen, how nobody had heard of ADD and he was called stupid, Also dotted with snatches of big 80s songs, like "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun, tt's the story of how the 80s broke his heart. It'll make you laugh, and maybe want to cry a little, if you were there.

"The 90s" follows up with musical references and more of his story, of his rise to the top with Take That. "Boys I don't believe it / I'm going to be famous / Pick you up in a Porsche / and buy you lots of trainers".

"Summertime" closes the album with something more like what we're used to from Robbie musically, but with a positive lyrical eye on the future.

- Jean Barker


" album so peculiar, so spectacularly misconceived, that it will decimate his fanbase at a stroke."
- Alexis Petridis for The Guardian

"While Rudebox is never brilliant, there are a few duds ("Louise" and "The 80's" come to mind) but there's more good than bad, and its hard to fault an album that is so consistently entertaining."
- Robert Ballantyne for

"Rudebox ultimately is, as a whole, several decent records whinnying to escape from development too early, resulting only in an expensive-sounding missed opportunity."
- Michael Hubbard for

Robbie has made a name for his pop sound, one of soaring sincerity laced with a lighthearted, almost camp twist that ensures him one hit summer release after another. This style was nearly perfected on last year's Intensive Care. And now for something completely different...

What to read next: Kalahari

jonelle 2006/11/29 8:18 AM
rudebox as an everlasting robbie fan, rudebox is the proof that robbie williams is the one artist who never fails to reinvent himself - time and again. i cried and laughed listening to this album and it took me back to my 80's which i think was his intention. rock on rob
janet 2006/11/29 9:18 AM
rudebox i adore robbie, he can do no wrong. rudebox is brilliant. heard 'the 90's' for the first time while driving to work and sobbed all the way through it. no matter what the critics say, stay true to yourself Rob.
Val 2006/12/21 1:19 PM
Great stuff Robbie you just keep doing right
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