I’ll bet some of you American readers had no idea Robbie Williams even had a new album out. Since November! Because sadly the US record companies neglect to put out his albums here in the states. Such a shame. In fact, if I recall the last of his albums to be released here was 2000’s Sing When You’re Winning. That was “Rock DJ”. That was many moons (and albums) ago.
Take the Crown is Robbie’s first album since after his stellar career retrospective In and Out of Consciousness in 2010. It’s his first collaboration with producer Jacknife Lee, and the team-up proves to bring some fresh ideas to Robbie’s sound.
We start out with “Be A Boy”, a big ambitious middle finger to everyone that ever wished his career and fame to be over. The melody soars and is instantly catchy as he muses “They said it was leaving.. they said it with joy”. The second track “Gospel” rocks out a bit and I can’t help but notice that Williams sounds a tad bit like Art Alexakis from Everclear. Mix that with a British singer and it’s something all new. Here he looks back and recalls first love.
Next up is the standout, “Candy”, already having been a big hit in the UK. This is a new style for Robbie, mixing in horns, strings and recalling somewhat of a sunshiny Motown sound. He makes what is almost a self-help song about an insecure unhappy girl into a big joyful noise. And then for something completely “Different”. This song is more of a heavy ballad, or more an apology song. It leaves you wondering if the narrator of the song is sincere or just saying what he wants the woman to hear to take him back. The video even leaves this with an unsettling answer. This is one of the qualities that I believe makes Mr. Williams last. He writes songs that are essentially pop, but he interjects wit and a few twists to see if you’re paying attention.
Next we have an upbeat guitars and four-on-the-floor beat track called “Shit On the Radio” that has a very similar feel to Jessie J’s “Domino” at first and lands somewhere in 80’s new-wavy pop retro. I’m sure this was intentional. The song is part pick-up line and part social commentary. Then right after we veer into a darker dance groove for “All That I Want”, where Robbie confesses his sinister plan to “pick you up from out of that dress, carry you to that desk, and feel the sin out of that flesh”. This one is perfect for the clubs and all dark sleazy places.
Then we get Robbie the crooner on “Hunting For You”, going for a more acoustic rock vibe. “Into The Silence” is obviously a bit informed by all the great jangly guitar U2 songs. At first you think with the crooning this is a ballad. Until he sings “When karma reaches you I want to be there to catch that fall, get down beside you and watch you crawl”. Possibly one of the most bitter breakup songs I’ve heard. Especially when the beauty of the underlying layers of musicianship and strings completely contrast the lyrics. It’s one big kiss-off with an evil grin. definitely one of the best on the collection.
“Hey Wow Yeah Yeah” is sort of a stab at alternative indie-rock. Absolutely no point, just “Boy boy boy girl girl clap your hands” and lots of crowd conjuring lyrics. You can tell though by this point it’s all completely tongue-in-cheek, showing how easy it is to write a catchy song without any kind of meaningful words. And it’s kind of irresistible, which drives the point home. Then back to reality we have “Not Like The Others”, a hard rocker about some really great sex. “When she comes, she comes for hours, stun! She don’t fake for no one”. Oddly with Robbie’s cheeky delivery this comes off as a love song. Then the big finale is an acoustic folk-based duet with female vocalist Lissie called “Losers”. This is a big heartfelt statement about coming of age and realizing that all of the chase of popularity and material happiness is a big waste of time, “So let’s stop the competition now, or we will both be losers”. Quite a grand way to finish.
The deluxe edition gives a couple more tracks. First is “Reverse”, a big “put your hand in my hand” anthemic song that has no place being merely a bonus track. “Eight Letters” is a gentle piano ballad about life’s lessons, and is the demo version of a track recorded in the reunion of his former 90’s “boy band” Take That.
It’s really a crime that a number one British album isn’t even bothered with here in the states. I found out about the album because of Robbie’s appearance on the Graham Norton show. I could tell as he performed “Candy”, and the crowd quite literally ate it up, that I was missing something. How have I not heard this song? Sometimes I really am ashamed of the US audiences’ bland palette and refusal to try things that aren’t already on the radio. This is quite a good album, full of catchy pop but also good songwriting. Thank goodness for internet resellers making it easy to obtain a copy.
Check out the great videos from this album:
“Be A Boy”