I bought Robbie Williams’ album Rudebox in a garage for £2.99 last week. I remember mocking it in 2006 when it flopped in the UK, but now I must eat my Adidas cap, for the record is surprisingly not too short of brilliant.
Now I must write a Disclaimer here: I have never been a Robbie fan. In fact, I’ve always thought him arrogant, cheesy and…well I’m just not his target market really. The Robbie Williams experience is for middle-aged women who don’t get enough sex, to wobble about on a saturday night flapping their bingo wings to Rock DJ, or balding Barrys in short-sleeve satin shirts, flinging sweat around to Let Me Entertain You.
Despite its global success (landing at number 1 in Germany, Italy and Switzerland) Rudebox didn’t sell enough copies in the UK, resulting in a couple of big firings at EMI, and the lead single, also called Rudebox, was robbed at the charts by three big hits also released that summer – SexyBack, Promiscuous and I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’.
Yet playing the album in the car this week, I feel a justified urge to rush to its defence:
With an understated electro heart and an Adidas-drenched fashion theme, Rudebox is Robbie Williams’ stylish personal tribute to the 1980s. Written at a time when Williams was coming to terms with depression, the album offers a rich and varied set of collaborations that boasts Pet Shop Boys, William Orbit, Mark Ronson, as well as a few quaint touches –like backing vocals from Keith Allen’s daughter Lily.
With fantastic production on some tracks, Williams successfully manages to sing worthwhile covers of big 80s songs like The Human League’s Louise, while still maintaining his personality and charm.
Lyrically, on the surface Rudebox comes across as blunt rhyming couplets interspersed with naff quips about current affairs. When one takes a second look though, we find a self-disparaging pop star indirectly hinting at some atramentously dark truths. Poetry, dare I say.
So for £2.99 - a bargain - and in my opinion the only provoking, truly listenable and interesting album to come out of the Robbie Williams hit factory. (Yes, including that stupid and wet Nicole Kidman album).
If Williams does reunite with Take That, I appreciate that he’ll make himself millions, but it will sadden me to see him re-attach himself to that pack of winging, aging, uninspired desperados. BUT: if you’re reading this Robbie… cash in on the gimmick if you must... but return to your world of rollerblading supermodels (non gender specific), cocktails and private beaches ASAP please!
Here are some quick appraisals for my seven favourite tracks on Rudebox:
Rudebox: The sassy title track. Some lyrics are borderline controversial like “dance like you just won at the special Olympics”. But ignoring the sapphic connotations, it’s a great pop number with an infectious cyclical chorus.
Lovelight: A beautiful Stephen Duffy cover that enters some sensual post-Jamiroquai territory. I love the deep electro-funk intro that makes Kanye’s imitative Flashing Lights sound like a child on a biscuit tin. Check out some brilliant YouTube clips of Robbie performing this song live.
Bongo Bong and Je Ne T’aime Plus: A very sophisticated cover that adds a nice sultry pop gloss to Manu Chao’s classic. Lily does her little-girl backing vocal thing, but years before Dizzee wanted some of the action on his track Wanna Be.
She’s Madonna: A weird combination of witty and spaced-out. Drift away with this interesting tribute to one of the few living pop stars who really does have a place in history.
Never Touch That Switch: An apocalyptic allegory for insular emotions? Whatever it’s about, it's punchy, gameshow-esque and hopefully you will love it too. Some cool remixes available on iTunes.
We’re The Pet Shop Boys: Neil joins in with the vocals, while Robbie pushes his pop career closer to a more sophisticated tangent of gay culture, an arena that he’s always teasingly targeted himself at.
The 80’s: Another splendid track!
The Jack of Hearts is created and written by Jack Cullen