It is one of the strangest musical careers of our time, that Robbie Williams was perhaps the biggest star in the UK, for like nearly a decade, and was just a guy with some minor hits in North America. It’s something that has happened over and over and over again – with British stars failing to translate in the US or US stars failing to translate in the rest of the world – but Williams appears to be a particularly extreme case: 11 #1 albums, 20 million albums sold and numerous hit singles in the UK and so few US hits that the Wikipedia article on his discography doesn’t bother to include the US charts. Honestly, I find his inability to break in the US more interesting than this record.
As my girlfriend has pointed out to me, Williams is actually a pretty good lyricist. He’s certainly much better than many people you might lump in with him and I’d take his lyrics over Gary Barlow’s. Any day of the week.
And he and his co-writer/producer have managed some pretty catchy songs on this record. They haven’t managed enough catchy songs – there is a big lull in the second half of this record – but they’ve managed enough of them compared to what I was expecting. (And, certainly, the UK public feel like these songs are catchy enough. 8 x Platinum in the UK for some reason. I don’t think it went Gold in the US. Anyway…)
The vibe is dancy pop rock -though it leans into UK/European dance music at times, there is also a rock vibe to a number of the tracks, and there are tracks that outright omit the dance influence. It’s safely middle-of-the-road, probably not too dancy for those who don’t want to listen to dance music, and not too rocky for people who don’t want to listen to rock music. It’s safely in the middle for a lot of people, which means I don’t like it. Not that I was going to like it, right? But still, it doesn’t really commit to a particular genre; its sound is firmly in between.
The sound is still pretty good 20 years later. I don’t hear too much that dates it specifically to 2000.
It’s definitely not for me, but it’s better than I thought it would be. But I still find myself far more intrigued by his strange career arc rather than his actual music. Like, I get that he’s quite British, but is he (and his music) really so British that it doesn’t translate to American audiences? It’s just fascinating.