America got its first taste of Robbie Williams with last year’s The Ego Has Landed, a type of greatest-hits compilation with songs taken from his two UK albums. The album contained hits like Millennium, as perfect a piece of pop music one could find, the sappy, over-the-top, and wonderfully beautiful ballad Angles, and the explosive pop anthem (and now an NBC ad song) Let Me Entertain You.
The Ego Has Landed showed both that Robbie Williams could escape the chains of his boy band past (Williams was a member of British boy-band Take That) and was a pop superstar in his own right. Now with, Sing When You’re Winning (Capitol), Robbie delivers an album of pure pop perfection that solidifies the reputation that was started with The Ego Has Landed and proves that he has the talent to last.
Sing When You’re Winning is filled with the catchy-as-hell big pop songs and cheesy, gorgeous pop ballads that Williams seems to be able to do as effortlessly as most of us get out of bed. While this album does not veer too far from his past efforts, it is a progression. Williams’ voice sounds stronger and more assured, and the songs vary more than just the guitar pop on The Ego Has Landed.
The album opens with the stunning Let Love Be You’re Energy. This song has all the big guitars, hooks, and attitude that defined Britpop. The first single, Rock DJ, has hit written all over it. It has a pseudo-rap style and a killer beat that all combines, yet again, to stick in your head and the track easily blows Williams’ Millennium away as his signature song. Kids, a duet with Kylie Minogue, has a funkier vibe to it that also nods its head to The Who’s Kids Are All Right and Led Zepplin’s Whole Lotta Love.
Kids is also probably the first hit-potential single with lines like Press be asking if I care for sodomy/I don’t know, yeah, probably. Lyrically, there is not as much wit as on his past albums. It is near-impossible to beat the couplet Every morning when I wake up/I look like Kiss but without the makeup from The Ego Has Landed’s Strong. But the self-deprecating humor, pure arrogance and ego that every superstar needs are more than abundant.
When it comes to ballads, Williams can still hit every schmaltz nerve and heartstring. While there is nothing on this album that comes close to Williams’ mega-hit Angles, there are some close competitors. The closest is Better Man, which has the same sad, romantic vibe as Angels and is just as likely to be a mainstay at high-school dances. Supreme is the bitter side of Millennium, with lyrics like, When there’s no love in town/And the new century is bring you down. It is definitely one for when you have been wronged.
If It’s Hurting You is a little bit more standard and generic, but you can hear Williams’ putting his heart and soul into it, which helps lift it beyond something destined for Monster Ballads Vol. 2
And then there are the odd songs. It is with songs like The Road to Mandalay that Williams experiments a bit. For most pop stars, experimentation is akin to suicide. Again, Williams has the talent and the bravado to carry the listener along. The Road To Mandalay sounds like a cross between a country song and vaudeville with its chorus of Bom Bom Bom Bom Bom Bom, which is one of the dumbest choruses in music since Blur’s Song 2 with its Whoo-hoo! It sounds like here Williams pays respect to his most immediate predecessor, Tom Jones. And like Song 2 it would be a dumb song if it was not for the chorus sticking in your head and coming back into your ears and mind every few seconds.
Williams admitted in many an interview that he is not making art. And that is fine, art is left for for the serious rock bands like Radiohead. There are times, though, when you just want to have fun, or be sappy for a bit – that is when Robbie is best. Sing When You’re Winning is one of those guilty pleasures you do not have to feel so guilty about.