Robbie Williams – the musical, equivalent of Marmite. You either love or hate him. I’m in the former camp. In fact, my admiration for the Stoke crooner is so strong that, for as long as I can remember, I’ve dashed to my local HMV on the day release to pick up his new album. Amazon.co.uk scuppered my ritual this time by blackmailing me with priority access to tickets for his 2014 tour if I purchased through them. Hopefully the code for pre-sale tickets will arrive in a more timely manner than the CD which came a day late (thank god for Spotify).
As always, I opted for the deluxe edition – a bargain at £12.99 (£3 more than the standard version) and featuring three extra tracks and a short DVD.
Swings Both Ways is Robbie’s second foray into the world of swing music, following his super-successful Swing When You’re Winning album. Robbie has been criticised by some who have branded his album ‘a Christmas cash-in’. First up, so what if it is? It’s never done Mr Buble any harm? Secondly, I think that’s a little short-sighted. If Robbie were looking for a quick pre-Christmas buck then why bother using so much original material?
Yes, there are some fantastic covers on this album. Robbie’s duet with Olly Murs on I Wan’nna Be Like You is just pure toe-tapping fun, as evidenced on this weekend’s Graham Norton show. Dream a Little Dream is like wrapping yourself in finest cashmere. Robbie and Lily Allen’s vocals blend seamlessly and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Minnie The Moocher offers us friendlies a welcome throwback to Robbie’s tour from earlier in the year. And I can imagine his version of Puttin’ on the Ritz is going to have some razzmatazz when he takes the album on tour in 2014.
There’s some slow songs on the album too. If Only I had a Brain doesn’t do much for me, but I don’t dislike it. Little Green Apples is a bit like an old chunky knit cardigan, comfortable and soothing, but without the showiness of your Saturday night on the town wardrobe. Snowblind is perhaps the only track that seems slightly out of place. At first I thought this was a bit of a rambling ballad and it took me a few listens and paying close attention to the lyrics to get into it. Now I like it, some the lyrics are absolutely beautiful (“While the world was looking at ya, you came and wrapped yourself around me”). However, I’m still not sure if this album was the right place for it.
That, of course, could be due to the fact it follows the high octane, Soda Pop. Robbie’s duet with his ‘man crush’, Michael Buble. It’s fun, it’s nonsense and it just makes you smile. In fact, that’s what I love a lot about this album. Some of it might not make sense, but if you’ve had a bad day at work you can bung this on and be sure to be toe-tapping, jazz-handing and singing along in no time. Woes truly forgotten.
Shine my Shoes is such a song. It’s Robbie at his most arrogant. But I defy anyone to say they don’t know someone who they would love to sing this song at? Someone that really riles you who you would like to knock down a peg or two… Its sentiment is very ‘you’re not going to get me down, no matter how hard you try’. Love it.
Swings Both Ways, the title track of the album, where Robbie duets with Rufus Wainwright, is straight out of a West End musical. It’s flamboyant and whimsical and just ever so slightly odd. As is No One Like a Fat Pop Star, a huge booming choir sings on this satirical song that explores the media’s obsession with skinny and Robbie’s predisposition to enjoy his food. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Both as a great pop song and also as if some element of Monty Python comedy has snuck into it.
As for, Go Gentle, Robbie’s first release from the album. Loving the lyrics, loving the proud look on Robbie’s face every time he sings it. Loving the fact that Robbie is in the position to be able to write a song about his daughter – surely that’s the ultimate gesture as a Dad? The lyrics capture Robbie’s worries that Teddy might end up with, well, someone like him when she’s older. And that, surely perfectly captures the feelings of Dad’s the world over? It’s a song I can imagine playing to our bump when the time comes for all that grown up jazz.
Swing Supreme is a real surprise. I didn’t expect Robbie to inject some swing into his back catalogue. But it works well and I reckon it’ll be a real crowd pleaser at next year’s tour.
The deluxe edition of the album features three bonus tracks. Where There’s Muck – one of those Robbie songs which combines daft lyrics with instant sing-a-long ability. Sing this in the car on the way back from a bad day in the office and you’ll soon feel better. 16 Tons is powerful, swingy, fun and full of swagger – a perfect song for Robbie to cover. Wedding Bells, sees Robbie team up with Gary Barlow again. It instantly sounds Christmassy, then progresses into light-hearted, yet tragic, clever lyrics. It’s nice enough and has an incredibly catchy chorus, but doesn’t have enough oomph to be anything more than a bonus track.
The production of the album is slick. It’s only when you watch the series of shorts on the DVD that you’re really reminded of all of the, very talented, musicians who were involved with the making of this album. And, good old Guy Chambers too. He’s gone from being Robbie’s nemesis to be being side-kick once more. Like a mad pop music professor he seems to gel with Robbie and help him to work that musical magic with just a little more flair.
Let’s face it, if you’re not a Robbie fan already, you’re probably not going to change your opinion after listening to this album. But for friendlies like us it’s all good. More of the cheeky chappy that we know and love. But this time he’s grown-up into a content, dapper man, with a baby and a big tour on the way.
Fabulous rating: 5/5 (obviously)