by Michael McCarthy
Over 375,000 people saw Robbie Williams perform at Knebworth over the first three nights of August 2003, and many called the tour the biggest live event the UK has ever witnessed. Live at Knebworth (Chrysalis, UK) – entitled Live Summer 2003 outside of the UK, yet not released in the United States under any title – features the highlights of these performances, mixed by Steve Power. “Good evening everybody, my name is Robbie Williams, this is my band, and you are about to witness the best show in the world right now!” Robbie proclaims halfway through “Let Me Entertain You,” the perfect, energetic choice to open the show.
All three shows at Knebworth are said to have lasted over two hours. It’s a pity that only a single 14-track disc was released. To that end, one would ultimately expect Live at Knebworth to serve as a greatest hits live disc. To some degree, it is. However, the inclusion of the epic “Me and My Monkey,” the laid-back “Better Man,” and an energetic cover of “We Will Rock You” allows the collection to truly serve as a souvenir of the tour. (Odd that Robbie didn’t perform – or at least include here – “We Are the Champions” after “Will Rock You,” considering that he performed vocals on the track for Queen on the otherwise forgettable soundtrack to A Knight’s Tale.) What’s truly admirable about the disc isn’t the choice of songs – which also includes such hits as “Angels” and “Feel” – but the raw, live performances. If anything was re-recorded in the studio, it was a waste of time and money because the disc sounds like your typical soundboard bootleg, which is a good thing indeed. Sure, Robbie’s voice occasionally falters, but it’s during these moments that you most want to cheer with the audience – which can be heard quite loudly throughout most of the disc – in support of his enthusiasm. And his personality truly resonates in these performances. You can picture his facial expressions changing as his voice shifts from overly confident to self-deprecating within the context of a single song as he damn near sings himself to death on the ballad-esque ode to drug abuse that is “Come Undone.” If you loathe Robbie and his sarcastic ways, this disc won’t make a fan out of you, but if you’re already a fan or you’re on the fence, it’ll make you like him that much more.
French pop diva Ysa Ferrer has released her first single since 1999’s “A Flash In the Night” in the form of the equally bilingual “Made in Japan.” (East West, France) “Ah, Ah, Ah!” it begins in the sexiest way possibly, and, damn it, it was well worth the wait. “I’m looking for a boy/Made in Japan/A sex friend, a toy/Love in a magical, magical world,” she sings, and her voice is so damn sultry, even the most heterosexual male pop music junkie won’t be able to resist singing along. Its beat and melody make it the most irresistible, trance-fueled pop gem this side of DJ Encore. The single features six mixes by six remix gurus from six different countries. I’m especially fond of the first track, the “Radio Remix” by Monsieur Monsieur of Paris, but the “French Club Remix” by Dominik Erbsland of Switzerland that follows is sure to grab techno fans in need of a sweet fix. If you like your beats harder, the “FH+ Akihabara Remix” by Argentina’s Federico Haro is sure to please. The remaining remixes, all well worth listening to, are by Norway’s Espen Gulbrandsen, China’s Tszpun and the United States’ own Kostas Petropoulos. With such a diverse collection of remix artists, the disc serves as an interesting sampling of the current house scene from their respective countries.
To Reach the Sun (Iceberg Music, Russia) is the debut album by Russia’s Monokini. The young singer is often called Mohn or Mono by her fans – not to be confused with the Portuguese pop sensation Monokini – and her disc is an interesting blend of pop, house, and melancholy. Released in 2001, but recently getting quite a bit of attention here in the States among import fanatics, much of the disc is in the vein of the current house scene in Greece and Norway. It’s easy to imagine “Carry Me Away,” the opening track, being spun in clubs all over Europe. There’s something slightly generic about its sound, but instead of seeming bland, it somehow gives it something of a universal appeal. The same can be said of “Dance at Dawn,” but some of these songs are more than merely Russian in language. (I had a friend translate these titles for Lollipop; the disc is entirely in Russian.) The guitars that highlight “Until Meeting on a Star” are very much the sound one expects from the Russian folk/rock scene, bringing to mind Akvarium. “Goodbye,” the haunting ballad that appropriately closes the disc, is easily my favorite, which makes me hope that her eagerly-anticipated follow up will be more in the pop vein than dance.