Saturday, 10 November 2012

Robbie Williams - Take The Crown (Deluxe edition) - REVIEW

Robbie is back!

With a new album as well as on the very top of the UK singles chart. Even though his album reunion with Take That was a critical as well as commercial success, it's nice to see him releasing new solo material again.

Recently I've realised he's pretty much the only male mainstream solo artist that I listen to - and have listened to for over a decade. Unlike say Adam Lambert or MIKA, his vocal style is quite relaxed (e.g. he doesn't produce sounds only audible to dogs) and the number of popular music genres he sings is even broader than the fusion of styles in the aforementioned singers' output. But at the same time, the biggest quirks in his discography are electro-pop sounds and rapping about his childhood - stuff that both my classic rock loving friend and my pretty songs loving mum can digest easily.

He earned my respect with his Royal Albert Hall concert (hearing him sing My Way live was the moment I stopped thinking of him as that twat who sheds his skin and probably can't sing live) and once I started to properly listen to Pet Shop Boys (which coincided with Robbie's decision to go more electronic) I've become a fan.

That all being said...I was at first very excited about the new album. Then I heard a few samples on iTunes and was a bit underwhelmed, which in turn made me initially very positively surprised when I finally bought the album this week and gave it several proper listens. Let's break the album down song by song:

Be A Boy: One of the few songs on the album that are memorable right on first listen. Initially it's for the wrong reasons (the backing vocals are reminiscent of Use Somebody's backing vocal hook) but the more it's played the more the song grows on the listener and grips them with an arrangement which would sit comfortably on either of Robbie's previous albums. And then there are the lyrics about coming of age in several ways. One of my very favourites on the album.

They said it was leaving me
The magic was leaving me
I don’t think so
I don’t think so

They said it was leaving
They said it with joy
Now I could make this last forever
And be a boy, and be a boy

Gospel: A real grower. Fell in love with it when listening to it for the third time. For some reason the word that keeps popping up in my mind is "sweet" - but not in a schmaltzy way. In a mature, subtle sort of way. It's entirely possible at least part of the song is about Rob remembering his teenage masturbating-in-his-room days but it could just be me projecting stuff...

Candy: Sweet, silly Candy. This song is so catchy, so naturally it made it to the very top of the UK charts. I love dancing like a loon to it when it comes on the radio (and it's VERY popular in my country), I love singing along those "hey ho"s. It's a feel good silliness and it's not supposed to be deep, so I take it as such. Will it ever feature on a potential My Fave Robbie Songs list? Nope.

Different: The future second single. On first listen it left me completely underwhelmed. I even joked it was the Gary Barlow Ballad Effect. I completely tuned out while listening to it for the second time. The thing is, the verses are quite good, including the solid lyrics but once the bridge comes the song kind of dissolves and the chorus is 100% pure Barlow at his worst, including incredibly cliché lyrics. (For the record I do like some of Gary-written ballads and mid-tempos. This one is not it.) I personally hate the chorus and as a result 70% of the song. It's a shame (no pun intended) but it doesn't mean it won't be a hit. I really really dislike Take That's Rule The World - and it's one of their biggest hits in the UK...

Shit on the Radio: Not a song I would skip while listening to the album but at the same time the song's not exactly very...interesting. Average unobtrusive uptempo pop song.

All That I Want: A late 70's Roxy Music vibe combined with vocals reminiscent of crooney Iggy Pop or David Bowie...and all that wrapped in an 80's new wave-ish pop production. It actually works really well and it's one of my favourite songs on the album.

Hunting for You: This song has a kind of indie folk-pop vibe. The sort that is pretty popular these days but I couldn't name one artist playing maybe? I quite like the song but I suppose I wouldn't buy it if it weren't Robbie's.

You could waste away in fashion
When you chase
The daylight home

Into the Silence: A ballad/mid-tempo song which is far superior to Different. Its lyrics are not sucky for one. Still, I don't exactly love this song, it's a wee bit too overproduced.

When karma reaches you
I wanna be there 
to catch that fall
Get down beside you 
and watch you crawl

Hey Wow Yeah Yeah: The note I made while listening to this song for the first time reads "Kylie's Timebomb on testosterone". I suppose that pretty much sums this one up. The liveliest, rockiest song on the album.

Not Like The Others: This one would fit on any pre-Rudebox album. An easily approachable rock song. It could easily be a crowd-pleaser on Robbie's stadium-sized gigs. A jumping, fist-pumping opportunity.

Underneath the covers
You and I are not like the others

Losers: A natural progression of sincere guitar ballads such as Misunderstood, Make Me Pure or Better Man. While in Make Me Pure Robbie adds but not yet, here he is all grown up and over it. Lissie, an American folk-rock singer songwriter duets with Robbie on this one and they sound good together.

Don't care about being a winner
Or being smooth with women
Or going out on Fridays
Being the life of parties
Don't care about being harder
Or being Daddy's favourite
Or if you think I'm a mimic
Or if I am a loser

Reverse: This poor little song is not exactly memorable. I suppose it will grow on me at some point, because it's not a bad song, or even a boring song. Most likely it suffers from being placed where it is on the album. Reverse actually reminds me of the stuff on The Killers' recent album Battleborn. Which could explain why it's not exactly memorable. ... Oh well.

Eight Letters: We already know this one from Take That's Progress, where it also was the official closing track. Take That's version is sung by Gary Barlow, who is a more proper and more pretty-sounding vocalist, but being a Robbie fan of sorts I obviously prefer Robbie's singing, therefore I like this version better than the original. And it's not only because of the vocal, the arrangement and production of this version are more organic sounding (and not dissimilar to the sound of Kylie Minogue's Abbey Road Sessions album).

What is the final verdict then?
Take The Crown is Robbie trying to get back on the top of the charts and so far he's been successful with that goal. Mainly thanks to Candy, which sounds nothing like the rest of the album though. The album itself is a less obvious brand of pop - a fusion of his classic brit-pop sound and his more recent electro/synth-pop leanings, and this mix works pretty well, actually. But the album also has one big doesn't exactly grab you right on the first listen and many of the songs need to be listened to several times for one to get hooked on them. This could be a problem, it being presented as big pop album and all. But the quality is there. With each listen I find another favourite and that rarely happens to me with a new pop album.

Take The Crown is a success, if a less obvious one.

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