Robbie Williams

Sing When You're Winning (Capitol Records)

I have seen the future of pop music, and its name is Robbie Williams.

...is I guess what we're supposed to say after wading through this 50-minute valentine from Williams to himself, but Lordy, how it do fall flat. It might be taken as parody, I suppose, a kind of doll-face white-boy dance-club Brit-pop-rap satire (the compound nouns suggest themselves unbidden); but, God help us, it seems upon repeated listenings to be intended as a straight shot.

There's no other way to explain why Williams' incoherent ego trip begins with an "attaboy" to himself-as-sperm, for being the strongest wiggler to storm the beach of his dear mum's ovum (I'm not kidding: It's the very first line on the album). There's no other way to account for his pathetic name-checking of every possible (and exceedingly arguable) influence, from blatant Funkadelic lyrical rip-offs and Ian Dury phrasing to his heinous appropriation of John Coltrane's phrase "a love supreme," for which crime alone Williams ought to be strung up by Li'l Robbie until he cries for mercy. There's simply no other way to justify the booklet's layout, a soccer-match motif that features Williams as every single character from goalie to coach, à la Being John Malkovich--which someone over in the graphic design department probably thought was très hip and bad ass, but which here comes off like so much more posing. This is not even to mention the songs (you're welcome), which fall into exactly two camps: coy, self-aggrandizing raps and trite, I'll-fight-to-get-you-back balladeering. Rick Astley--Rick Astley--would hang his head in shame.

And the Lennon anecdote. Oh, dear.

Quoting now from his own press release, vis-à-vis the song "Better Man": ...I was thinking, "Well, you've got it, son. You've sold eight million albums, made money, you're more famous than anyone would want to be and it's not doing it, is it?" So I sat outside with my guitar and I thought, "I'll just pray to John Lennon and if he's listening maybe he'll give me something." Now that can be taken as raging arrogance or just plain loony [Both. -- ed. note] but I started strumming the chords which became the verse and the whole thing was written in an hour. And I mean that song. It's me being honest. Not ironic or smart-arse. It's just me.

I doubt anyone will think me too cynical for suggesting that the ol' Walrus was pulling Robbie's leg, inspiration-wise, when he wafted down addlepated lyrics like, "Send someone to love me/I need to rest in arms/Keep me safe from harm/In pouring rain," set over a swoopy synth-orchestral arrangement.

Or maybe Williams got hold of Rob Pilatus, the dead half of Milli Vanilli, by mistake. I mean, not to be ironic or smart-arse.

The cumulative effect of all of this lame posturing is to make you sick of Williams, his mediocre talent and his limp playing-the-dozens shtick, before you even hit the second track. For this kind of übermensch, flexing to work as a marketing ploy, even the most musically bland pop "artiste" should be possessed of a reasonably compelling public persona.

Williams, by way of elegant contrast, allows the name of his ex-fiancée to be printed in the press release in reference to the album's "gentle lament" about their breakup. As you might imagine, in the context of all that nattering about how goddamned soulful and complex he is, this particular moment makes Williams look about as charismatic as a chilled bucket of moray eels (as does the "enhanced" portion of the CD, which offers the video for "Rock DJ": You click on his pasty bare ass to get the whole thing started. Charmed, I'm sure).

Williams' breathless promo sheet describes him as "James Dean alive and well and joining the Clash," which, when you get a mouthful of this mediocre pabulum, isn't even weird enough to be funny. That Williams can even speak the name "John Lennon" without pissing his pants from sheer guilt is a jaw-dropping act of hubris; and this from Lennon's old U.S. label, yet. Capitol would be performing a greater service to the commonwealth by recalling these discs and selling them for a nickel apiece as replacement rearview mirrors for bike helmets.

Just remember, objects in the reflection are less talented than they appear.

No; upon further consideration, they're precisely that talented.

 
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