Generally I stay focused on my writing career on this blog but from time to time I like to venture forth into other passions that I have. For instance, I’ve posted rpg writeups and talked tv shows. When it comes to music, I have many favorites – David Bowie, Marina and the Diamonds, Led Zeppelin, Prince and Fleetwood Mac are just a few of them. But my absolute favorite music artist is Robbie Williams, the British pop superstar who’s well known everywhere but here, in the jolly USA. Robbie started out in a boy band called Take That back in the Nineties before going solo. He then began selling records… lots and lots of them. A few years ago, he even patched things up with the rest of the boys in Take That and released an album called Progress that dominated the UK charts and spawned a huge tour. Today I’m going over my favorite Robbie solo albums in order from the very best to the bottom of the barrel. I’m not including compilations or live albums here.
1. Reality Killed the Video Star (2009) – Kind of an odd choice, given that it’s the only album in Robbie’s career that didn’t hit # 1 in the UK. But I love this record and think that from start to finish, it’s an enjoyable listen. My favorites include Bodies, You Know Me, Starstruck and Won’t Do That. I just feel it’s a truly solid album that speaks to the wide range of talents that Robbie possesses. I actually listen to it quite often and think it works as both background music while I work and for when I want to just sit and listen to the lyrics.
2. Escapology (2002) – Considering that my two favorite Robbie songs are both off this album, I’m sure a lot of my friends would expect this to be in the top spot on my list. But while it contains many, many wonderful tracks, it does contain a couple of clunkers – How Peculiar and Cursed, for instance, are two songs that I can go the rest of my life without hearing again. Still, it contains Feel (my all-time favorite Rob song), Come Undone (my second favorite), Something Beautiful, Handsome Man, Hot Fudge and Me and My Monkey, all of which I really dig.
3. Take the Crown (2012) – A really strong outing that shows how much Robbie has matured. He’s a married man and a father now and you can see that all of that has helped calm his manic nature a bit. The lyrics remain deeply personal but are of a different sort. Now we see a Rob who’s promising to never betray his love, who thinks about where he’s been and where he hopes to be, etc. Contains some real gems like Candy, Be a Boy, Gospel, Different and Not Like the Others. A lot of people really enjoy Losers and while I dig the lyrics, the actual track isn’t one of my favorites.
4. I’ve Been Expecting You (1998) – Robbie’s second solo album is a classic, with perennial favorites like Strong, No Regrets, Millenium, Win Some Lose Some, She’s the One and Jesus in a Camper Van. Really, there are no stinkers on this album and it could easily be higher on this list… but I think that it’s very much of it’s time, as well, in terms of sound and Rob’s state of mind. As such, while I adore all those tracks I listed above, as an album it feels a little lighter than the ones I’ve ranked ahead of it. Still, a great one.
5. Sing When You’re Winning (2000) – A truly strong effort that, for me, solidified that Robbie was going to be around for the long haul. More mature than previous releases, it also displayed stunning self-assurance and confidence in his abilities. My favorite tracks include Supreme, Rock DJ, The Road to Mandalay, Kids and Better Man. There are a couple of tracks that are fairly weak, though, and that’s what moves it down to the fifth slot. I remember being so excited when this album was released and I wasn’t disappointed at all.
6. Intensive Care (2005) – While a fine album with a few stellar tracks, there remains something… off… about this one. I think we can begin to see the things that eventually veer off-track with the next album. I think that at this point, few people were questioning Rob’s decisions. He was selling tons of albums and singles so why should they doubt him? But there are tracks on here (Sin Sin Sin, which was actually released as a single) that feel a bit phoned-in and by the numbers. Still, I love Ghosts, Advertising Space, Please Don’t Die and The Trouble With Me. It’s a good album, just lesser than those above it on this list.
7. Life Thru a Lens (1997) – Rob’s debut album. It contains mega-hit Angels, which single-handedly transformed him into an international superstar. Lazy Days, Old Before I Die and Let Me Entertain You are all fine tracks and have rightly become classics in their own right. There are other songs, though, that reflect Rob’s struggle to become a solo star and which, no longer viewed in their 1997 context, just don’t hold up well. It’s definitely a flimsy record compared to his later works — a few wonderful songs surrounded by fluff.
8. Robbie Williams Swings Both Ways (2013) – Rob returned to swing in this follow-up to the 2001 Swing When You’re Winning. I rank this one higher because it contains several new tracks and two of them (“Shine My Shoes” & “Go Gentle”) are absolute classics. I really enjoy several of the oldies on this album, too, especially Rob’s versions of “Little Green Apples,” “16 Tons” and “Dream A Little Dream.” Is this as good as a pure, 100% Robbie album? Nah. But it’s a damned fine record.
9. Rudebox (2006) – Okay. I don’t hate this album and, in fact, think it has some very good tracks on it. But overall, it is a bit of a mess. The album doesn’t feel cohesive and contains a few embarrassing blunders (the title track wouldn’t be too bad as album filler but as the lead single? Very bad move). There were also a surprising number of covers (Bongo Bong and Je Ne T’Aime Plus, Lovelight, Kiss Me and Louise). I do really enjoy The Actor, The 80’s, The 90’s and Summertime but this was an album where someone should have stepped in and said “No, Robbie, this isn’t working.” It’s an example of excess to the extreme.
10. Under the Radar, Volume One (2014) – This one is an odd duck. It contains unreleased tracks that, for whatever reason, didn’t make it onto previous albums or as single B-sides. It was available only via Robbie’s official website so you weren’t even able to get it via normal retailers. Overall, most of these songs are exactly what you’d imagine — they’d make fine album filler but they’re not single-worthy. There are a few that I do enjoy (“H.E.S.,” “Surrender,” “Green Light,” and “The Pilot”) but there are also some that are… uh… not so good. A few suffer from poor decisions — “Super Tony,” for instance has a killer chorus but the song screeches to a halt every time Robbie does his little ‘cocaine’ thing in the song. Overall, this one is worth listening to if you’re a hardcore Robbie fan… but if you’re a fan of only his hits or are just scratching the surface of his catalog, you can skip this one.
11. Swing When You’re Winning (2001) – This album only contains one new song (I Will Talk and Hollywood Will Listen), otherwise it’s covers of old swing jazz songs such as Mack the Knife, Something Stupid (which hit # 1 on the UK charts as a duet between Rob and Nicole Kidman) and Mr. Bojangles. It’s fun stuff but I rank it at the bottom because it’s certainly the least “Robbie Williams” album he’s ever done. Rob loves this stuff and has incorporated some of it into his stage shows ever since.
If you’re looking to get into Robbie’s music for the first time, I’d say start with either The Ego Has Landed, a 1999 compilation album that takes the best tracks off Life Thru a Lens and I’ve Been Expecting You or In and Out of Consciousness: Greatest Hits 1990-2010. The Ego Has Landed was actually my own introduction to Robbie so it obviously worked. In and Out of Consciousness has 2 CDs and 39 tracks so you get all the major hits but you lose the cohesive feel of an album. It’s a compilation, you know the routine.
I’ll be back soon to talk about New Pulp and what lies next for me, writing-wise. Take Care!