Sing When You’re Winning (Capitol)
by Scott Hefflon
Robbie Williams is a pop superstar the likes of which we don’t see much anymore. Eerily ’80s at times without being a has-been you wanna beat to death with his own limbs, yet not ironically-so-unhip-he’s-hip (the kind of casually overly-conscious trend-jumper who smokes a pipe one week and crack the next), Britain’s Robbie Williams is so maddeningly cool he could probably cover John Denver disco-style and it’d work. The single, “Better Man,” is almost an acoustic hair ballad, but it’s beautiful, uplifting and inspirational. Without being too drippy (see American Top 40 cheese), it speaks of growing through pain, accepting responsibility yet not wallowing in guilt, and doing everything possible to be a better man. And unlike the bullshit promises of forever in US pop, this pledge is not to some bim in order to get in her panties or off the hook for being a shithead, it’s for the sake of itself, to be a good human. Anyone who was floored when Nicholson made a similar comment in As Good As It Gets knows what I mean.
Other tracks, all thoroughly British-sounding, pull off the sad, breaking-heart touching/feeling stuff that so many try and few succeed at, and while a few have that flower-throwing love’n’powerchords rock thing going on, there’re dance beats and butt shakin’ to compensate. Evidently “Rock DJ” is a hit with UK kids, but many of them still get weak in the knees over the Spice Girls, so ya can’t give ’em too much credit. But I’m quite a fan of “Kids,” a mammoth-chorused “whoa-whoa” arm-waving duet with Kylie Minogue, a hottie who’s name I feel I’ve known all my life, but can’t for that same life recall why. There are dozens of fan websites with photos of her on talk shows and walking down the street and on the cover of British magazines, but not a one ever says what she’d done… My fave track has to be “Supreme,” based on a traditional melody, spiced with “I Will Survive” references. I think the orchestrated solo may even be the same (or just frightening close). And again, the lyrics are so honest, humble, and right on, that I have to fight the impulse to play the song on repeat and just belt ’em out.
Seeing as most Americans who’ve gotten their heads outta Brittany’s cleavage long enough to notice Robbie mistakenly think he’s arrogant, who knows how well he’ll do in the states. Robbie’s a funny wise-ass (the entire CD booklet, 12 photo panels in all, is all Robbie in various scenes of soccer revelry – if that’s not a little nose-thumbingly vain, I don’t know what is), but on this record, he’s also vulnerable and, ya know, so honest it hurts. Hell, it’s just good to hear celebration and heartache on consecutive tracks, neither being so goddamn trite you wanna hurl.