Tag Archives: Robbie Williams

Take That ‘Progress’ – Review

21 Nov

The story of Take That is one of the most  triumphant in the history of British pop music. manufactured by a slightly crazy manager, five Manchester lads were brought together to be our answer to New Kids on the Block. Gary Barlow was the songwriter and main talent whilst the other members served mainly as backing dancers which started to grate, especially with the youngest, Robbie Williams. You probably know the rest, but put simply they rose from the ashes with style and good grace, simultaneously with Robbie’s less than graceful decline. Now the band and Williams are reunited for what is essentially the musical equivalent of a big make up hug.

And it’s a comforting and friendly hug but also one that’s slightly surprising in its strength and style. I wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘Progress’ – what I’ve heard of Take That since their 2005 reunion has been a mixed bag of killer, undeniable singles (Shine, Patience) syrupy rubbish (Greatest Day, Rule The World) and some interesting but traditional album tracks (Hello, Julie). Where they have broken the boy band mould in the past it has been by adding Sgt Pepper esque horns, pondering about the state of the world and letting Jason sing – so never that experimental or groundbreaking – but they’ve always been a step ahead of Westlife, JLS and their like.

The biggest change between the band’s last album and ‘Progress’ is the production. Since their comeback they have worked with John Shanks, a bland Hollywood producer who gave the songs enough sparkle for the radio but added nothing interesting to the mix. This time they are working with the genuinely talented Stewart Price, the man who helmed  Keane and The Killers latest albums and reinvigorated Madonna a decade ago. This has resulted in a shift towards electro pop, the record sounds like a mixture of the group’s more upbeat 90’s material and Robbie’s much maligned ‘Rudebox’ album.

It doesn’t begin in this way though. First single ‘The Flood’opens the album and it easily fits into the ‘syrupy rubbish’ category I mentioned earlier, but luckily it doesn’t represent ‘Progress’, from here on in things get more uptempo and more exciting. Robbie and Mark lead the way on ‘Kidz’ and ‘SOS’ and the results are extremely catchy, sounding like the halfway point between ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ and ‘Mr Brightside’. ‘Happy Now’ and ‘Pretty Things’ are slightly more downbeat and old-fashioned but there is still a unexepected oddness to these songs that keeps you on your feet – Robbie and Gary harmonize in a very creepy way. ‘Underground Machine’ comes next and it’s essentially a Robbie Williams solo track, and an average one, so it makes you wonder why it’s on here.

After this things stop being so Robbie centric and the other members each get a turn to shine (see what I did there?). Howard’s song ‘Affirmation’ genuinely sounds a bit like Joy Division, but it’s a bit naff, ‘What do you Want From Me’ is Mark’s confessional song and it’s much more succesful at blending Take That’s traditional sound with something a bit fresh. Gary finally (finally) gets his own lead on ‘Eight Letters’, a brilliant ballad that sounds like a classic Take That hit played on a weird synth and with some seriously thoughtful lyrics. It is topped by the album’s hidden track, ‘Flowerbed’, which is a lovely little tune sung by Jason.

I can’t think of any other ‘manufactured’ pop act making music as well designed as this; as the album’s credit’s reveal this was written entirely by the group; they played instruments, oversaw mixing and artwork and because of these details there is real personality and character to these songs. There isn’t a classic tune on here, nothing to match the latest Lady Ga Ga or Girls Aloud single or anything from Take That’s original run, but there is a consistency and cohesion to this album that is commendable. Ultimately the story behind the record is much more interesting than the album itself, but all things considered this is one succesful reunion in both a critical, and no doubt commercial, sense.

6.5/10



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Robbie Williams ‘In and Out of Conciousness: Greatest Hits’ – Review

4 Nov

So Robbie Williams is back with Take That, because lets face it, his career hasn’t been going as smoothly recently as it once did. Ok, his last album still sold over a million and his last single got to number 2 but there is no doubt that he isn’t what he was, whereas Take That go from strength to strength. Joining your old band when the solo career starts to flag is a tradition in pop music (see also Boyzone, Spice Girls, Spandau Ballet) and releasing a greatest hits in these circumstances is an even older one.

And so we have ‘In and Out of Conciousness’ a two disc, backwards chronological collection that spans Robbie’s entire career. The songs on the first disc can be divided into three categories – the good, the bad and the ugly. The good songs are almost entirely at the end and they include ‘Feel’, ‘Come Undone’, ‘Sexed Up’ and of the newer songs ‘You Know Me’ stands out. The bad stuff makes up the vast majority of this disc, I’m talking about bland, boring, inoffensive music, stuff like ‘Advertising Space’, ‘Bodies’, and ‘Morning Sun’. The ugly songs are the ones where Robbie attempted to be either experimental or personal. There is an embarrassing honesty to a few of these songs that is expressed in quite a cringe worthy way, but it’s when he starts to rap that you should truly be worried. ‘Rudebox’ as an album was a noble failure but the single from that album is honestly one of the worst things ever released. Just yuck.

The second disc is a lot stronger but that also begins badly with a handful of middle of the road ballads. The likes of ‘Kids’ and ‘Rock Dj’ spice things up nicely and once they get things going then this is a very enjoyable listen. ‘Let Me Entertain You’, ‘She’s the One’ and ‘Millenium’ are stone cold classic and of course ‘Angels’ is one of the greatest ballads ever written. As the songs get older they also get more interesting from a historical point of view – ‘No Regrets’ is an insightful overview of Take That’s career, ‘Old Before I Die’ is a cringey attempt to do Britpop, and ‘Freedom’ is the carefree cover of the George Michael classic that gave Williams his first hit. The album ends with ‘Everything Changes’ the Take That song most people connect with Robbie and it’s a fitting end to an album that marks 20 years in the industry.

I wish I could say it is a fitting album as well but it isn’t, and that is mainly down to the tracklisting. As all his best songs we released within the first five years of his career and most of his material since has been dodgy at best this creates a bit of a problem when all the newer stuff is put at the beginning. I really like ‘Shame’, I thought it was a witty and cute comeback single, it’s a decent start to the album but The next three songs are rubbish, and the two big singles from the last album were hardly classic. Because of the way this is ordered you have to sit through a lot of rubbish before you get to the good stuff, and in an age when the idea of a Greatest Hits feels a bit redundant (because of downloading) there is just very little incentive to buy this.

‘In and Out…’ does remind you why for ten years Robbie Williams was England’s greatest pop star but it also reminds you that he hasn’t done anything consistently great in many years. In 2004 Robbie put out a ‘Greatest Hits’ and he hasn’t released anything since then to justify getting this album over that. So if you want a Robbie Williams best of buy that (it’s probably like £2 on Amazon now) or just download your favourite songs, but don’t buy this expensive and bloated cash cow.

5/10

Help for Haiti

2 Feb

Rock stars love to be seen doing something for charity. Cynical? Perhaps, but also very true. And so it is that two new charity singles are being released to benifit Haiti.

The UK will be releasing ‘Everybody Hurts’, a cover of the R.E.M song featuring the likes of Take That, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minouge, Leona Lewis, Westlife and Cheryl Cole. I don’t really care what their motives are for releasing the song, if it does well and raises bags of money then I can’t complain – even if Simon Cowell completely misunderstood the meaning of the song, even if it is the least cohesive sing along in history, even if it’s as corny as a Vanila Ice song, even if it hurts my ears.

The USA meanwhile will be re-releasing the Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie song ‘We Are The World’ with a new cast of singers and actors. It’s a bizarre and completely random list of stars, you have the likes of Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Pink, Miley Cyrus, Akon and Usher singing with old timers like Brian Wilson and Al Jardine of The Beach Boys, Tony Bennet and Celine Dion. At least the song is entirely appropriate for the cause, and again you can’t really complain, Haiti needs all the help it can get.

Below is ‘Everybody Hurts’

Robbie Williams ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’ – Review

17 Nov

The last few years have been tough for Robbie Williams. After releasing the massive ‘Escapology’ and ‘Greatest Hit’s’ he all too quickly turned out the horribly bland ‘Intensive Care’ and the part brilliant part crazy ‘Rudebox’ that got him good reviews from the likes of NME and Mojo but a slating from his longterm fans and traditional supporters. During a 3 year break he has entered rehab, been accused of going insane and watched on as his former group reformed with great success. ‘Reality killed The Video Star’ isn’t really a comeback, but in the age of comebacks it’s being marketed as one and EMI are hoping it sells as well as the likes of ‘Sing When Your Winning’.

The album begins strongly enough with a Sgt Pepper horn section, some lavish strings and appropriate lyrics about dawn; ‘Morning sun’ is pretty good and it suggests from the off that this album is a clean break for Robbie. ‘Bodies’ isn’t an entirely convincing comeback single but it’s considerably better than anything he’s put out in years, even if it won’t be remembered as the likes of ‘Angels’ and ‘Rock DJ’ are. ‘You Know Me’ is more like the Robbie Williams of old, with a pretty melody, soppy (and humourous) lyrics plus nice doo wop backing vocals.

Robbie has never been a lyrical genius but he’s delivered as many clever lines as he has absolute stinkers (see Angles and Rudebox to see both ends of the spectrum). The nice puns in ‘Blasphony’ are very enjoyable, and some very sweet strings make this track another winner. So far, so good.

The album feels a little disjointed, the result of Robbie trying to find a balance between the classic pop of old and the more experimental dance orientated songs of Rudebox. After the front loaded singles the album starts to act like a teenager on acid. ‘Do You Mind’ has an odd AC/DC riff, and this is followed by the Pet Shop Boys sounding ‘Last Days of Disco’, in which he sings ‘don’t call it a comeback’. Decepticon is pretty awful, a complete and unjustified David Bowie Rip off, and this is followed by ‘Starstruck’ a song that sounds like it’s come straight from an M&S advert. Shock horror – ‘Difficult for Weirdos’ starts of sounding like Hadouken and actualy works a lot better than the songs that proceeded it.

The album ends strongly with the combination of the upbeat and sincere ‘Won’t do that to you’ and a reprise of the opening track; Normality resumed. This gives the album a nice rounded beginning and end even if the middle is a bit of a bumpy ride. Robbie Williams has never been an album artist, despite some huge selling, solid records; ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’ will ultimately be remembered on its singles – and how much it sells. This isn’t his best album and it suffers from sporadic sequencing and a few boring moments. At the end of the day there is nothing here to match his best work, nor is there anything as embarrassing or creative as what was found on ‘Rudebox’. It is a nice album that will sell millions and re-establish Williams as the country’s biggest pop star, and I think that was always the goal.

6.5/10